In February, I covered the International Sheet Music Library Project, a sort of Project Gutenberg-like e-repository for public-domain sheet music. As I mentioned at the time, music publishers are not very happy about this site, as it undercuts their lucrative business of selling printed versions of public domain music without having to pay anybody royalties.

Lately, this unhappiness has come to a head with the British trade group Music Publishers Association of the UK sending a DMCA takedown notice to the ISMLP’s domain registrar, GoDaddy. Under the terms of the DMCA, GoDaddy had no choice but to disable the ISMLP’s domain for no shorter than ten days.

The DMCA notice covered Rachmaninoff’s Bells, which is in the public domain in the US and Canada, and arguably so in the EU. Even if it is not public domain in the EU, IMSLP’s servers are in Canada and should not be subject to European copyright law. The IMSLP is already making plans to sue the MPAUK under DMCA Section 512(f), which provides that anyone who misrepresents the copyright status of material in a DMCA will be liable for legal fees and expenses. Meanwhile, the MPAUK is trying to get the ISMLP to take down the takedown notice.

It’s kind of fun to compare this to Project Gutenberg. I certainly don’t ever recall hearing of any printed book publishers despising Gutenberg for making public-domain books available for free on the Internet. (Or at least saying anything about it if they did.) And I know that the Gutenbergs of various different countries have hosted works that are still in copyright in other countries for some time, but don’t recall hearing of anyone DMCAing them over it.

It will be interesting to see how this goes.

(Found via BoingBoing.)


  1. I’m a huge fan of IMSLP, but the comparison to Project Gutenberg is flawed. Sheet music is highly graphic; besides alphanumeric info (fingerings, commentary), an edition may add dynamics, articulation, corrections, and other unique and valuable information.

    It would be more accurate to compare IMSLP to Google Books or, which present PDF images of book pages with the original typography and illustrations. Yet many public domain books are not available from those sources because someone has republished a facsimile edition (and presumably demanded a taketown). IMSLP is upfront that some of the music found there is scanned from these reprints. Thus the big picture is whether anyone can claim copyright on public domain printed images.

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