Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IMSLP Back in the News - Library of Public Domain Music Scores

The IMSLP - International Music Score Library Project - is back in the news - and indeed in the New York Times. 

This is a huge online resource of about 85,000 public domain music scores - started by a bright young Canadian former music student, Edward W. Guo (aka "Feldmahler"), whose past copyright encounters motivated him to study law, which is what he is now doing at Harvard. It's interesting how music students gravitate to law - but that's another subject.

The basic issue for this website is that some publishers take the view that works in the public domain in Canada but not abroad should not be accessible from abroad. That, of course, is very problematic because some jurisdictions have longer terms of protection than Canada. Determining which particular editions of which particular works are or are not in the public domain in each of 180 or so countries is clearly a nearly impossible task. Blocking based on geo-location tools is a crude method that would result in enormous overkill and is probably very impractical for a volunteer crowd sourced website. I doubt that it is practical or even possible to block out particular scores from particular countries - without blocking out all scores for that country.

In any event, a downloaded PDF is not much of substitute for a well printed edition that can be used for performance purposes. Besides, it makes no sense to harmonize to the highest common denominator. Mexico has a term of  life + 100 years. No doubt some other country will one day go to life plus 120 years, etc.

Sites such as this and Project Gutenberg are invaluable and should not be threatened with over-reaching copyright claims.

I dealt with this issue a few years ago - and had an interesting exchange with Universal Editions Canadian lawyer at the time.

Hopefully, this and other comments helped to keep IMSLP online. I only wish that there had been such a resource when I was a music student.

The whole issue of conflicts of law and extra territorial application of laws is one that is incrementally but inevitably headed for a crisis and may need to be dealt with by a treaty. This is something that WIPO might wish to look into.


1 comment:

  1. A very balanced report from the NYTimes. But how does the writer conclude that Canada's laws are looser? Has he been brainwashed by music industry propaganda?