A public-domain score site founded by a conservatory-turned-law student continues to be controversial in classical music circles, the New York Times reports. Much as Project Gutenberg does for books, the International Music Score Library Project makes scores written by classical composers that have long since passed into the public domain available for free download and inexpensive printing via a musician who runs a print-on-demand service.

After a copyright challenge from European publisher Universal Edition in 2007, founder Edward Guo took the site down until it could exhaustively be checked for copyright violations. It returned owned by a company to remove personal liability issues and hosted in Canada to take advantage of Canada’s less rigid copyright law.

Guo reports still getting occasional complaints from publishers, but after he points out they are not bound by E.U. law, the publishers “usually go away.”

“In many cases these publishers are basically getting the revenue off of composers who are dead for a very long time,” Mr. Guo said. “The Internet has become the dominant form of communication. Copyright law needs to change with it. We want people to have access to this material to foster creativity. Personally I don’t feel pity for these publishers.”

On the other hand, publishers point out that the public domain copies are older versions that do not necessarily have the benefits of the latest scholarship and corrections that have come to light since their original publication. But then, many of the public domain translations of foreign works on Project Gutenberg are likewise older translations, and people still get by; they can buy and pay for newer translations if they need that newer information.

It’s interesting to see that the tension between publishers and public domain works exists even outside of the printed-prose industry. But it’s good to see as much public domain information as possible made freely available to the public whose domain it is.

(Found via Techdirt.)


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