Patented.. Music?

Music therapy – an increasingly more accepted health care profession that progresses on the basis of belief that musical notes can affect the brain in such a way that certain physical, mental and emotional conditions of people can be addressed. The power of music isn’t new to India. While stories like those of Tansen controlling the elements with his music have lined Indian history, current music therapists are approaching this interdisciplinary field in a more scientific manner.What makes this even more interesting for us is that accepting this effectively equates music with medicine, and music as a medicine would indeed throw an interesting twist to the debate surrounding how strict intellectual property rights should be with respect to medicines!With millions of people dying every year simply due to lack of affordable medicine, there has been constant pressure on pharmaceutical companies especially in developing countries to ensure that profits aren’t placed before people. Equating access to music with access to medicine and throwing the music industry into the fray should raise plenty more exciting issues to be fought out. Spicy IP throws out a few issues for our readers to think about.

Currently, musical works are protected by copyrights which have been internationally standardized for a duration of between 50-100 years. Hypothetically, if music does gain worldwide acceptance as a drug, will there be prohibitive pricing as seen in many pharmaceutical products? The music industry will certainly be looking to cash in on this new ‘use’ of music, perhaps deservedly so, and will probably start bringing up points regarding the Research and Development that’s gone into the making of such powerful music. However, it’s use as having medicinal value will also throw in some ethical questions as to whether this should change anything at all, since scientifically proven or not, music as having some kind of therapeutic value has been known and practiced for a long time. After all who hasn’t, at some point of time, just wanted to come home after a hard day’s work and just wanted to relax to some music.

Conversely, if sufficient protection isn’t given, there is likely to be a dearth of investment in further Research and Development and therefore the furtherance of the science – the standard reason for the existence of IPRs. In all probability, if there doesn’t seem to be enough money in the field it might not grow to the projected levels in the first place.

Another point to ponder upon is that this is probably the first time that music will have an actual, tangible ‘use’. Would this change the levels of protection that it gets or deserves? For example, considering there will probably be different flavours of music therapy from different regions, will GIs start playing a role as well? And how will the industry decide when music is being bought for traditional reasons and when it is being bought for medicinal purposes? And how does this affect the access to medicine debate with regard to traditional pharmaceuticals?

More worryingly is the question of whether such usage will lead to the onset of patent protection for such music and the effect that this will have on access to medicine (not to mention access to music!)

In India at least, most if not all of the tunes being used are ancient (mostly Ragas from as far back as the Vedic times) and thus far beyond the duration of any type of IPR protection. So at the moment the level of protection will not be a problem due to its being in the public domain. However, it’s only a matter of time before major labels/pharmaceuticals decide to patent protect this new functionality and bring along with them a cartload of legal issues.

P.S. Spicy IP would like to express thanks to Swathi Sukumar, senior associate at Anand & Anand for pointing us towards this development.



  1. Sneha

    Dear Swaraj,

    A very interesting read and definitly an isue to think about!

    In my opinion, as your rightly pointed out, patenting such “therauptic music” seems unlikely keeping in mind the public doman argument.

    However, what prevents our music directors/therauptic music scientists(!) from producing/compiling a record for specific “use” such as soothing nerves or pumpin in the gym? Isnt that already a part of our daily lives? Most radio stations across the country start off with some soft spiritual music in the morning for half an hour and then decide the tone of the music according to the fluctuating mood of the masses during the day.

    So in effect, copyright is the best and the only (hopefully!) protection that should be available for such theraptic use of music.

  2. Anonymous

    very interesting indeed! But

    i. is it a medicine/substance as under the definition of drug in the patents act?
    ii. 3(d)?? new use of a known substance?
    iii. isnt it more like a process for treatment?
    iv. would be contrary to morality?


  3. Swaraj Paul Barooah

    Dear Sneha,
    Thanks for your comments.

    As you’ve mentioned, labels/companies/etc will def try to cash in on this opportunity, however I can’t really think of a way in which a bifurcation in the ‘usage’ of music can be made – ie, ‘this’ only for therapy, and ‘this’ only for listening pleasure. So i don’t really see how access to either therapeutic or general music can be distinguished. It’ll have to overlap.

    On perhaps similar line of thought, with music as a drug, I wonder how, if at all, ‘drug’ testing will take place to ensure quality.

    I’m completely with you when you say that hopefully copyright remains the only protection for such music.

  4. Anonymous


    To add to your write-up, do look at US Patent No.6,939,288 titled “Auditory therapy system for impacting the nervous system of a living organism”.

    It refers to the therapeutic use of music, in relation to treatment of sleep disorders (though it doesn’t correlate the selection of music to a particular ailment).




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