Forensic Musicology

Dr Joe Bennett provides consultancy services to law firms, media companies, music publishers and songwriters, comparing musical works or sound recordings to establish levels of similarity and the likelihood of plagiarism.


  • Musical analysis for copyright matters
  • Sample detection
  • TV, film and and advertising consulting
  • Corporate consultancy (sonic idents, audio trademarks etc)
  • Plagiarism enquiries

Music analysis for copyright matters

A musicologist report is a comprehensive comparison of two or more works to establish the likelihood and extent of possible plagiarism. It can include melodic, lyric, harmony, instrumentation and production analysis, as well as detailed repertoire research to establish the copyright status of the works. Where necessary, consultations can be undertaken before a work is released, to reduce the risk of inadvertent plagiarism, and to recommend musical changes that may be needed in order to avoid perceptions of inappropriate similarity. Music analysis reports are typically used to assist intellectual property attorneys in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of copyright infringement claims. Where needed, reports can be augmented by a password-protected website with audio, where clients can hear the extent of similarities or dissimilarities for themselves. Past clients include law firms, media creators, tech companies, music publishers, record labels, and individual songwriters.

Sample detection

Sample detection is the practice of establishing whether audio from an earlier recording has been used as part of a later one. The recordings are imported into music software for visual analysis and critical listening; methods include spectrogram analysis (‘graphs’ of the musical content), waveform comparison, tempo and pitch matching, and research/discussion of creative processes. Past clients include law firms, media companies, record labels, beat-makers/hip-hop artists, and music producers.

TV, film and advertising consulting

Where bespoke music is used with the moving image, it is often required to create deliberate cultural allusions. Directors may have a style, artist or composition in mind when commissioning a composer, and musicologist reports can assist both parties in ensuring that the cultural allusion is preserved without inadvertently infringing the copyright of a particular work. Past clients include law firms, ad agencies, film/TV production companies, music libraries, and individual media composers.

Corporate consulting

Many corporations use sonic logos or idents, and these can be protected as copyrights and/or trademarks. Attorneys may need to file documentation, supported by sonic analysis by a musicologist, to assert the originality and protectability of these assets. Past projects have included audio analyses for some of the world’s largest tech companies (sonic logos), major retailers (advertising idents), and Automated Vehicle Alert Systems (AVAS). Corporate consulting is usually subject to a non-disclosure agreement.

Plagiarism enquiries

Partial similarity between musical works is a common phenomenon, and it is not necessarily evidence of plagiarism or copyright infringement. Popular music is a self-referential art form, and composers often use similar melodic, harmonic and lyric ideas, without needing to copy them from any specific work. If you believe that your work has been plagiarised, a musicologist report is only recommended if [a] the earlier work was available as a commercial release and [b] if the similarity is musically extensive (i.e. more than a lyric line, short melodic fragment, basic beat or chord sequence). Dr Bennett receives many enquiries from songwriters who mistakenly believe that their songs have been copied by major artists. Such intentional copying, particularly of melody, is rare in the music industry; melodic similarity is more often the result of coincidence. If you would like Dr Bennett to provide an informal verbal opinion regarding partial similarity, this can be done in a videoconference meeting, and is usually covered by a retainer fee.

Process, confidentiality and cost

A report typically takes 5-7 days, but for urgent projects it is possible to provide a phone or email consultation that same day. Joe Bennett is based at Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA.

All correspondence is treated with the strictest confidentiality, and projects can be subject to non-disclosure agreements as required.

Detailed costs are available on request, after evaluating the project; a simple retainer fee is charged in advance, which enables a preliminary analysis and includes advice regarding next steps, after which an hourly rate is invoiced when the project is complete. As a guide, Dr. Bennett’s hourly rate is around 60% of that of an experienced copyright attorney.


Describe your consulting needs below, and someone will get back to you within 24 hours.

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