The following quotes are excerpts from a forum which took place during January 1986 on PAN, a musicians' computer bulletin board. Hensley: the opinion of the legal profesionals was that, because the hardware served to limit the number of possible sounds, and because it was not only possible but probable that two individuals could independently program identical sounds...because of all that, patches for synthesizers did not fall into the realm of material for which a copyright could be effectively protected.
R. Hodge: If everyone "has" and is using a particular sound, then what good is it? (Well that wouldn't make it bad, but it would lose its impact.)
SPBSP: What good is a great sound if it is available to the "masses"? Well...what good is a Hammond B-3, a Stratocaster, a Fender Rhodes, or a Stradivarius? Great players and programmers give sounds freely, confident perhaps that it's not the size, it's the motion. Dave at Keyboard: I don't think a sound should be thought of in the same terms as a book, or a musical composition. Really fine work in any field would be greatly diminished by changing a word, removing a note, or resculpturing an appendage. A sound is more subjective, more like a recipe.
Bill Monk: My outlook has been that, while a patch is copyrightable (melodies are, though they are produced with far fewer parameters), it doesn't really matter. Those interested in "stealing" patches are probably unlikely to be able to make their own or to alter the stolen one in any significant way. But I can make plenty more with a little time and effort. It's the continuing ability that counts, not just having a few great patches.
M. Fischer: At this point it is not entirely clear that "sounds" are copyrightable, but a strong case can be made for their protection under copyright. The closest reported legal decision was one involving the Chexx hockey game (booing and cheering noises). That case held the sounds to be protectable sound recordings. Southworth: Various DX-7 programmers have told me that they "bury" useless data in their sounds so that they can prove ownership later. Sometimes the data is obvious, like weird keyboard scalings or inaudible operators, and sometimes it's not, like the nonsense characters (I seem to recall someone once thought they were Kanji) in a program name. Of course, any pirate worth his salt would find all these things and change them...Synth programmers are skilled craftspeople just like violin makers, so if they go to the trouble of making new and wonderful sounds that other people can use, they should be compensated for their efforts. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just selling the damn violin.
I also found the following quote on Sweetwater, a swapping network for the Kurzweill sampler (heavily promoted as a great piano mimic): "We cross-sampled most of the Emulator II's library (nothing is sacred)..." And then there's this quote from Digidesign's promo literature for the Sound Designer (software support for the Emulator): "Sound Designer's `pencil' lets you draw waveforms from scratch or repair sampled sounds. Have a click in a sound sampled from a record? Just draw out the waveform..."
Whose record? Samples are recordings and theoretically are copy-protected as such. But as PAN correspondent Bill Monk says, being able to prove ownership and actually going to court over a voice are two different things.