Music Publishers Still Annoyed By Free Online Archive Of Public Domain Musical Scores

from the comeptition-sucks dept

For years, we’ve covered how some in the classical music world have become quite upset by “free” classical music in the internet era, complaining about how it “devalues” music. Of course, the reality is that they’re just upset about losing their role as a gatekeeper — even when it comes to public domain music. A few folks have sent in this recent NY Times story about the International Music Score Library Project, and how some classical music publishers don’t like it, with a few (mainly in Europe) threatening copyright claims. The site was specifically set up to provide protection to the site’s creators against such claims (a few years back, he took the entire site down due to threats, but then restructured it and put it back up). The really silly part is how the publishers of these scores seem to simply assume a right to make a living from the way things used to be:

“You’re paying for something that’s worth more than the paper you’re receiving,” said Jonathan Irons, Universal Edition’s promotion manager in Vienna. “Everybody expects somebody else to pay for it.”

It’s hard to think of a statement more confused. No one’s “expecting somebody else” to pay for the value. They know it’s already been paid for. These works are old works. The “value” of the work is not the same thing as the price, and if the economics of the situation mean that works already created can be more widely distributed and used at a low price, that’s a good thing. It means we have abundance in the market.

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Comments on “Music Publishers Still Annoyed By Free Online Archive Of Public Domain Musical Scores”

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sagescape (profile) says:

Copyright as charity

?I don?t know if I would call it a threat, but I do believe it hurts sales,? said Ed Matthew, a senior promotion manager at G. Schirmer in New York. ?It is that profit that helps us to continue to bring out more composers? work.?

As I noted yesterday over on my blog Legally Sociable, this makes no sense. It is the profit from selling/renting sheet music composed by long-dead composers like Beethoven at above-market prices that allows the G. Schirmer company “to bring out more composers? work”? Insofar as this even makes sense, they can only mean one of two things:

1. Traditional music publishers can only continue to publish public domain scores if they can continue to sell it at monopoly prices (e.g., $30-50 for “[a] set of parts for a mainstream string quartet”, according to the NYTimes article).

Analysis: Good riddance. IMSLP will publish it for free. Deadweight loss triange: gone.

2. Traditional music publishers can only afford to take a bath on contemporary composers if it can subsidize them with profits from public domain scores of dead composers.

Analysis: Whatever this is, it’s not a business argument. There are plenty of reasons to support new composers (and musicians generally) that have nothing to do with business, of course. One may think that the arts are intrinsically valuable, or may want to give back/pay it forward, or may simply want the prestige of having one’s name connected rising talent as a “patron”. All fair enough. But there’s no business reason for a traditional music publisher to subsidize new talent with monopoly money. Why should it do that? It would make much more money if it simply sold the old public domain stuff and told new composers to take a hike. (Unless, of course, it does make money off the new composers….)

Just because a music publisher may have used some of its profits to support the arts doesn’t mean that they should be able to assert legal rights they don’t have to public domain musical scores just because the Internet is threatening their traditional business model. The arts can be supported much more directly and efficiently. There’s no need to expand copyright law to allow a revenue stream to continue flowing into the publisher’s pockets that a trickle may eventually find its way into the tip jar of the up-and-coming composer.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Piano Files

The the International Music Score Library Project is small potatoes for the music publishers. The one that really drives them batshit is, but so far they haven’t been able to do much to them legally because the site itself doesn’t host any copyrightable material. It’s just a forum where people list all the scores they personally have and enables them to privately trade with one another.

However, given the current “merely linking to something is criminal infringement” attitude by ICE, I wouldn’t be surprised to find their domain name seized any day now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Piano Files

Uh, no. IMSLP is a big deal to large publishers and small across. However, it’s a realistic site with a laudable goal: they’re basically making public domain music available again, because publishers re-copyright it again and again by changing a single note of a song somewhere and claiming a new copyright (artists themselves are famous for having done this too).

Meanwhile, its still public domain. They (publishers) want to stop music from the classical and renaissance age, basically.

-Designerfx (logged out)

MrWislon says:

“The ‘value’ of the work is not the same thing as the price,”

Which really only shows that to the publishers, the value of the work is the same thing as the price. They only value a work based on how much money they can get for it. They don’t value music for it’s own sake and therefore deserve no business from anyone who does value music.

Not an electronic Rodent says:


I thought about and heard a portion of Green Sleeves in my head today, how long before that is infringement?

Remain in your home friend citizen, the **AA Government funded neurosurgeons will be with you shortly to extract the infrginging memories. You have been selected for the new “Painless Plus Roto-Rooter-O-Matic” proceedure.
Have a nice day friend citizen and remember to vote.

Allan Masri (profile) says:

Classical Music Online

The music publishing companies in question are going out of business. Their business model is obsolete. They would like to change the copyright laws to keep on profiting from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony forever.

Since new classical compositions make very little money for the composer anyway, composers are better served by publishing their works online.

The additions that publishers make are more than just changing a note or two. But the Schirmer edition of Beethoven’s Sonatas include commentaries which themselves were written over a century ago. Any new commentaries of this sort can be read in a library (or online) and incorporated into the score without needing to buy a new score. This would not be copyright infringement since the commentaries only make suggestions on how to perform a piece. They do not change the music itself.

This is a non-issue that will fade away as the companies themselves fade away.

nelsoncruz (profile) says:

Conflating the value of different things

I think these publishers are conflating the value of the compositions that they publish, with the value of their service (publishing them).

The classical musical compositions still have value. As long as people want to have them, the value remains. It’s the publishing and distribution via traditional methods that has lost value because of new technologies.

Going door to door in cities selling water and ice where once very good business. It was a highly valued service. Water plumbing and refrigerators changed that. Doesn’t mean people no longer value water and ice! It just means you’re better off selling bottled water and refrigerators on the supermarket!

Many others in the content world make the same mistake. Movies and music are still heavily desired and therefore have a lot of value. But selling or renting them on plastic discs, is a service which is loosing value… fast! Which makes these distribution methods inadequate to capture the value of the content like in the 90s.

The trick is finding the ways of accessing content that consumers still value, and thus are willing to pay for, and exploring those. A few old ones still work quite well (movie theaters, concerts…), and new ones are enabled by technology. Focusing on “piracy” or the “devaluing” of content is the wrong thing to do. It just blinds these people to what otherwise would be straightforward business decisions.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:


Pretty much. From my recent tweets:

I worry that we’re in the terminal stages of capitalism: where nothing other than squeezing every last cent out of something matters. Where books and movies and music are no longer “culture”, they’re “product”.

That is, it’s fine to try to make money off culture. But when the primary role of cultural works is as “product” to extract money from people, the game is over – civilization has lost.

Karl Wolff (user link) says:

Theft, not "sharing" is the foundation of

The current biggest threat to many music related professions is

The kind of sheet music theft practiced on is a consequence of the anonymity that is provided by such sites. This anonymity allows people to copy and barter anything they chose while hiding behind a made up name. While has a disclaimer they hide behind condemning theft, they do nothing to enforce it. Artists and publishers send request after request to the staff and get no help protecting their works. Most of the music offered on the site is copyrighted, and by living composers. Most of it, not a little bit, but thousands of books. Theft, not “sharing” is the foundation of

We are here, in part, to expose such businesses, protect our property, and enlighten less experienced young people who are being exploited through marketing lies about “sharing”.
So why is the site there if the staff does next to nothing?

The answer is simple: generates around $161.00 USD in daily ads revenue. $58,000.00 a year isn’t bad money for providing teens with a convenient hidey hole meeting place and a secret identity so they can steal the works of their favorite artists. has granted its members permission to steal. They condone it, promote it, brag about it, and exploit it. These are the values of a Wall Street trader, not a musician. You won’t find a successful musician trading on

Karl Wolff (user link) says:

Copyright as charity

The concern is over the theft of music by living composers. Most of the music on pianofiles is by living composers.

There is a great deal of hot air here, and little to no real knowledge.

A living composer (someone who isn’t dead) needs to eat. pianofiles has turned the distribution of music by living composers over to 18 to 24 year old males who trade single unsecured PDF files of concert works by living (there’s that word again – it means not dead) like they are baseball cards.

Its an empty vacuous pass time and is flat out theft. Its shallow, ignorant and cruel. pianofiles supports the theft because of the money they get from banner ads.

Most of what I read here is ill informed nonsense from people who have no real connection to the arts.

There are no known artists here. (except me I guess) Just blowhards who wanna stick to the man.

Well the man you’re stickin it to is the highly creative LIVING people we publish.

Furthermore the publication of classic works supports the release of unproven new works. Can you understand that? Its a little subtle. Publishing Bach makes money that goes to giving a new composer a chance to be played.

The mindless garbage being spewed by sagescape is really funny, but it shows no real understanding of the world or the challenge any new composer faces.

Karl Wolff (user link) says:

Piano Files

The kind of sheet music theft practiced on is a consequence of the alleged anonymity that is provided by the site.

A growing coalition of composers, publishers and distributors are collecting pianofiles member profiles that include IP addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, and e-mails. This information is being collected for the FBI in the U. S. and for the coalition’s attorneys in Belgium.

While has a disclaimer condemning theft, they do nothing to enforce it. Artists and publishers send request after request begging to remove their copied works from the site, and get no help.

Most of the music on the site is copyrighted and by living composers. Most of it, not a little bit, but thousands of books. Theft, not “sharing” is the foundation of

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