Skip

IMSLP copyright clashes
February 22, 2011 11:35 AM   Subscribe

... the International Music Score Library Project, has trod in the footsteps of Google Books and Project Gutenberg and grown to be one of the largest sources of scores anywhere. It claims to have 85,000 scores, or parts for nearly 35,000 works, with several thousand being added every month. That is a worrisome pace for traditional music publishers, whose bread and butter comes from renting and selling scores in expensive editions backed by the latest scholarship. More than a business threat, the site has raised messy copyright issues and drawn the ire of established publishers. (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (23 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yay, IMSLP. It has been such a boon and a wonderful use of public domain works. It is, as far as I'm concerned, part of what the internet is for. I was quite glad when they came back from the dead.
posted by lizarrd at 11:42 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like Mr. Guo, I have little sympathy for the music publishers. Much original material doesn't get published mainly because the publisher doesn't think they'll make money on it. They know they'll make money selling the works of the great composers, because demand from students, musicians and ensembles for the well-known works is high. But as a sometime composer myself, I can say that a lot of music publishing houses don't accept submissions. You submit a piece for consideration by invitation only.

Being able to go to a website and find a piece for free is wonderful, especially when the alternative is spending a fortune for enough choir parts to furnish a full choir, or worse yet, renting the parts from the publisher and being forced to return them once the concert is over!
posted by LN at 11:49 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


yeah what kinda comment is "this is how we finance new publishing"? You can do whatever you want, the point is that you don't have monopoly rights to public domain works. Move along, it's not about you.
posted by the mad poster! at 11:51 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The site. But when I go, say, here, and click on the "mp3 file (audio)" link for a movement, it goes to a minimally informative page describing their issues with various file formats.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:52 AM on February 22, 2011


Around 10 years ago I went search for sheet music for various things and was completely floored that it couldn't be found without paying $$$, even for public domain works. I'm glad someone has finally gotten on that.
posted by DU at 11:54 AM on February 22, 2011


I love them. I've taken to listening to my favorite pieces while reading the score. It helps me follow the subtleties.

But I recently read a fascinating book about opera by Philip Gossett recently that talks about why that research is important to music. There are all kinds of changes to the text that were made for specific singers or performance groups that have been enshrined in the text as if they were the original intention of the composer, when in many cases there are arguments to be made for the strength of the work based on the original score.

So I'm not sure how they should co-exist, but I can definitely see both sides.
posted by winna at 11:56 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, I see. I have to click the arrow on the left, and then a disclaimer.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:57 AM on February 22, 2011


If your business model is based on selling something that is in the public domain, perhaps you should have revisited this the moment something called the Internet was invented.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:20 PM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


There is a lot to be said about Masterclass editions of works. I find the alternate versions of works that have been uncovered by scholarship fascinating, and a lot of people put a lot of work into tracking what the composer's intent may have been (as well as such things can be known, of course).

But when you buy one of those editions, you're really paying for the scholarship and whatever fancy printing techniques (grey notes for alternate versions, raised, smaller staffs above the regular notation, etc) the publisher chooses to communicate all that stuff.

The basic work, if it's in the public domain, should be pretty much fair game. IMSLP is great.
posted by hippybear at 12:24 PM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


If your business model is based on selling something that is in the public domain, perhaps you should have revisited this the moment something called the Internet was invented.

Most did, by redefining the public domain.
posted by anthill at 12:28 PM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have little sympathy for the music publishers. Much original material doesn't get published mainly because the publisher doesn't think they'll make money on it.

I don't follow your objection to that. They are businesses, not charities. I'm not surprised they don't accept your submissions. As a "sometime composer," presumably you haven't established much of a market for yourself. I'm not knocking that—we all have different priorities—but you make it seem like they owe it to you to publish your music, and I'm not following why.
posted by cribcage at 12:28 PM on February 22, 2011


you make it seem like they owe it to you to publish your music, and I'm not following why

As I understood the comment, the point wasn't "They owe it to me to publish my stuff" but rather "Their claim that they're acting in the interest of publishing new stuff is a lie since they don't publish any new stuff".
posted by Joe Beese at 12:32 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think they owe it to me to publish my stuff, not at all. But as Joe mentioned, the claim that selling the great composer's works allows them to publish new works is somewhat specious, as there is precious little new stuff published in comparison.
posted by LN at 12:38 PM on February 22, 2011


Mr. Irons said Universal was unfairly maligned by its critics for doing what music publishers typically do: use revenue from the sale of old pieces to finance publishing of contemporary composers. “They think we’re sitting on our bums raking in cash, eating cake,” he said.

I'm confused about this. The implication is that demand for contemporary scores is fairly low, as are the profits. If that's the case, why are the prices for such scores so high? Is it price discrimination based on a captive audience of necessarily law-abiding public performers?
posted by invitapriore at 12:43 PM on February 22, 2011


What I find interesting is how difficult it is to find scores for a lot of the new music that isn't even very new.

Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians, one of the more well-respected ensemble pieces to come out of the last 50 years, didn't even HAVE a score for 20 years after its premiere. And even then, it only finally had a full score published because a grad student wanted to do her dissertation on the piece and made one. It was only then that it's been published, which finally freed it from its confines of only being performed by the composer's ensemble.

And even then, the only part of it you can BUY is the actual score. I think my copy set me back nearly $80. If you want to actually perform the piece, you have to rent the parts from Boosey & Hawkes, at some ridiculous rate, and that doesn't include paying performance rights for the piece.

I know, this is kind of apples to oranges when it comes to offering public domain 200 year old works online... But I do find it rather fascinating how much music is sort of held for ransom by various publishing companies.

When I was a serious music student, my peers and I would often get together, raid the music library for something we'd never played before, and simply have fun sightreading through it. There was no performance we were aiming for. We were simply playing for the love of music, the love of exploration, and the love of group sightreading. But a lot of new music, you can't even do that with, because who can afford to rent parts simply for fun?

I haven't done any real research on what the availability of new works is, and how they're made available. But I suspect that new music would receive a lot more attention if it were 1) available at a price musicians can afford, and 2) actually available at all.

The suggestion by the publishing companies that they're using old material to fund the publication of new material... feels laughable to me.
posted by hippybear at 1:06 PM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not necessarily, invitapriore. Traditionally, it was because the print run for low-demand pieces is small, which tends to cost more. If the score is printed on odd-sized paper (like a conductor's score for an orchestral piece), that adds cost too. Add to that the cost of typesetting, editing, proofreading and other activities that accompany publishing. Add again the cost of warehousing the printed piece somewhere, and shipping when someone purchases a copy. High cost and low sales means they have to charge more per unit to recoup their costs. In a paper-only business model, that makes sense.

And in a paper-only time, it was mostly universities, libraries and ensembles with outside funding sources that could afford these scores. Community groups had to beg, borrow and steal in order to get the scores of pieces they wanted to perform, or they had to create their own versions, as I do with my choir.

But in an internet sales model, you should be able to remove the costs of printing, binding and shipping from the equation, since those costs are now offloaded to the consumer, which should theoretically lower the price. Even with these savings, purchasing sheet music is still out of the realm of the possible for a lot of ensembles and performers, though. Having IMSLP around gives little community orchestras and choirs a lot more scope for things to perform.

Music publishers have slowly been adopting internet-based sales, but I believe they could do more, particularly for newly composed stuff. How much more work would it be to add a link to a youtube clip of the piece being performed, so that prospective buyers get a sense of the work before buying, rather than providing the first page as a sample?
posted by LN at 1:14 PM on February 22, 2011


I browsed and couldn't find any sign of non-classical music. Even the "folksongs" seemed to be classical adaptions of folk songs. Am I missing something, or is there some equivalent of this site for, say, public domain folk, ragtime and blues songs?
posted by msalt at 1:58 PM on February 22, 2011


As I understand it, IMSLP only has PDFs of scans.

There's also the Mutopia project, with scores typeset by fans using lilypond. I think it's better than IMSLP because with a machine-readable score (what you get with lilypond) you can transpose, generate MIDI files, separate out a particular instrument, etc.

But it's a lot of work to typeset a piece in lilypond -- it's not just a matter of scanning a page. I guess ease of use is the key, because there seem to be a lot more works on IMSLP than on Mutopia.
posted by phliar at 2:27 PM on February 22, 2011


> But it's a lot of work to typeset a piece in lilypond -- it's not just a matter of scanning a page.

I hope I see the day when sheet-music digitizing software works the way it should: want something obscure, find same in (say) local university music library, scan it, run scans through music-OCR package, out pops electronic version in playable Finale format (nothing against other formats, especially open-source ones, I've just used Finale since forever.)

In real life the output you get (like the output from print OCR or voice-to-text) requires heavy hand-editing, often almost as much as just entering the piece note by note in your music software by hand in the first place. Also, where's my flying belt?


> Traditionally, it was because the print run for low-demand pieces is small, which tends to
> cost more. If the score is printed on odd-sized paper (like a conductor's score for an
> orchestral piece)

There's one part of the puzzle that's almost in place, with 13" x 17" printers now dropping into the range of a home user's budget.
posted by jfuller at 2:50 PM on February 22, 2011


and of course there's always CPDL for free editions of out-of-copyright choral works. Although it gets a bad rap for inaccuracies and some less-than-stellar engravings (NoteWorthy Composer? anyone?) it's still amazingly helpful for us choral folks. :)
posted by Thomas Tallis is my Homeboy at 7:36 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


For those looking for more, there's also the Library of Congress's Historic Sheet Music Collection, 1800-1922 and Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music.
posted by fings at 11:41 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I quoted Astro Zombie & anthill in my article about the copyright issue and IMSLP; thanks!
posted by brainwane at 12:37 PM on February 26, 2011


Another one I just wandered across, the ezfolk public domain music library, which has several old public domain song books.
posted by fings at 1:01 PM on March 4, 2011


« Older PeerReviewTube   |   RULAV is pronounced "AWESOME" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post