Crafting Gentleness

Friday, December 28, 2007

The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) has been shut down

From the Commons-Law list:

The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) has been shut down after several threats of lawsuits from music publishers.

Started by a student in Canada, IMSLP was a major resource of music scores of western classical music uploaded by a global community in PDF form. Music scores are the written version of a piece of music, as set down by the composer, and are necessary for anyone wanting to play or study that piece. The paper versions cost anything up to $80, and therefore represent a significant expense for people such as music students.

IMSLP collected only scores whose copyright had expired. In the case of the majority of western classical music this was easy since most of the works were more than a century old and there were many editions in existence from before the copyright period.

IMSLP was a perfect "commons" project: it allowed a well-defined community to jointly build a scarce and expensive resource whose cultural value had been validated by the centuries and was largely free of copyright constraint. Music publishers, however, have continued to bring out new editions of these works whose copyrights still obtain, and they did not see IMSLP in such a favourable light. Though the site was fully compliant with local - Canadian - law, it was shut down on threat of legal action under Austrian law (whose copyright term is longer), thus posing the question of how jurisdictions work in such online matters.


IMSLP site:
"The IMSLP was a repository of more than 15,000 musical scores"

Article by internet law professor Michael Geist:
"This case is enormously important from a public-domain perspective"

Introduction on what happened

The International Music Score Library Project was a repository of more than 15,000 musical scores that are in the public domain here in Canada. I was forced to close the site due to circumstance after receiving lawsuit threats from music publishers that do not want the public domain to exist.

The immediate threat was from Universal Edition, a publisher in Austria. Whereas copyright in Canada lasts until 50 years after the author's death, copyright in Austria lasts 20 years longer.

Universal Edition threatened to sue me, perhaps in Canada or perhaps in Austria, for violating Austrian law. There is no reason why Austrian law should apply to this site in Canada, but as a student I did not have the resources to resist even an absurd threat from a company with money to pay lawyers to attack music.

I greatly thank Richard M. Stallman for his support in this matter, and for his offer and help in writing this summary introduction (something that I had neglected).

Thoughts after the closure of IMSLP

I felt an incredible sadness after this incident. Yet this sadness is only in part the result of having to close down IMSLP (at least for the time being). A much deeper sadness is the realization of the fact that classical music, as journalist Michael Kimmelman aptly put it, "survives every attempt to save it".

As many musicians I know will attest to, contemporary classical music is not in a good situation. How many non-musicians know Schoenberg? Even Mahler?

Despite this dire state of affairs, there are people in the classical music world who have shown themselves to have absolutely no interest in the well-being and future of classical music. Instead, they are insistant upon blindly wringing the last drop of profit from dead composers. I say "blindly", because I do not even believe their actions increase profit.

And they attempt to seek justification for their actions in the name of fairness and morality. They claim they have the right to profit from the work of dead composers for eternity. What they want is not limited copyright. They want perpetual copyright. They want to keep their wallets properly lined with minimum effort. They want to change laws to make this happen, at the expense of the entire society. Like vultures, they want to peck the last bit of meat from the skeleton of dead artists.What is the purpose of copyright? To stifle creativity by prohibiting access to art that was created more than a hundred years ago? To make life easier for certain people, who are usually not the artists themselves, at the expense of everyone else? I do not believe I need to explain myself further here.

I here challenge them to give even one logical reason, with proof, why, for the benefit of the society, works of dead artists should be protected for more than 50 years worldwide postmortem, a protection these people are claiming. I challenge them, as an artist myself, to give one reason why artists should receive such exemplary treatment, seeing how this is absolutely impossible in any other trade. But I do not expect an answer, because there is none. There is no logical justification. It is simply pure greed. And not even greed on the part of the artists themselves.

My friends, weep with me. Weep for the resistance of the classical music world to all efforts to save it. Weep for the robbery of culture by a few people at the expense of the society. Weep for our slow but steady decent into the darkness that is Nash equilibrium. Weep with me, my friends.

But do not lose hope. We must continue our unwavering belief in the accessibility of culture, in the correctness of our actions. We must continue in this course we embarked upon two years ago, in this fight for the fundamental right of all humans. Do not lose hope, for all is not lost.

Response to support

Quoting Michael Geist in his article published by the BBC, "thousands of music aficionados are rooting for the IMSLP in this dispute". This is no exaggeration; in the aftermath of the closure of IMSLP, I have received nearly 1000 e-mails regarding this matter, and every single e-mail is in support of IMSLP. This is, of course, not counting all the support that was expressed on the forums, supporters who have shown their support on other sites, or supporters who have not yet vocalized their support.

I have received support from not only IMSLP users and music aficionados, but also notable people in other fields who have much sympathy for IMSLP's situation, and who have offered help in one way or another. In addition to the help law teams and professors in the University of Ottawa, Stanford University and University of Georgia have offered, I have also received support and understanding from notable Canadian intellectual property lawyers Dr. Michael Geist and Mr. Howard Knopf. Many other people have offered non-legal help, including GNU project founder Richard M. Stallman and Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart. This outpouring of support further enforces my conviction that IMSLP was not wrong.

Unfortunately, I am currently very overloaded with other work, and so was only able to respond to select e-mails. I will, however, try to answer the rest of the e-mails and correspondences as soon as possible. But allow me to say this here: "Thank you".

Current IMSLP status

I am currently in the process of reorganizing IMSLP. Like I said on the forums, what needs to be done is clear. However, when it will be done is unfortunately not yet clear at this moment. I will be updating this page when there are new developments.If you would like e-mail notification of the modification of any page on this wiki, simply sign in and click the "Subscribe" link above the particular page.


IMSLP site:
"The IMSLP was a repository of more than 15,000 musical scores"

Article by internet law professor Michael Geist:
"This case is enormously important from a public-domain perspective"


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