The Copyright Debate Continues

By Georgia Stitt
July 2, 2010

A little over a year ago I posted this blog entry about the rampant abuse of sheet music trading online and how it was affecting me personally. It’s an issue that has had me riled up, and if you’ve encountered me in the last year (in a master class or concert, anywhere I’ve been given a microphone and an audience) you’ve likely heard me talk about why it’s important to download music legally instead of stealing it.

Then a few days ago, my husband wrote this blog, called “Fighting With Teenagers: A Copyright Story.” It’s a very real conversation he had with a very real teenager after he asked her directly please to stop giving away his music. It’s a fascinating narrative, but even more enthralling is the number of passionate comments it has generated. If you’re interested in this issue, I encourage you to read through the sea of comments in both locations (his and mine). People gots some opinions, y’all.
So it’s clear: artists, publishers, lawyers, writers and musicians all seem to believe copyright law is in place for a reason. Tekkies, teenagers and philosophers seem to think “information should be free.” Obviously I’m making a generalization but I have been shocked at the number of people who are not just misinformed but feel extremely entitled to a product they had nothing to do with generating.
Quoting one of my own comments this morning: “Just because everyone is doing it does not make it right, or even legal. When the law changes to agree with you I will give up my rant. Until then, consider also the law of supply and demand. If demand for a product disappears, said product will cease to exist. If no one wants to buy music, how will anyone ever be able to afford to make music? There has been lots of talk about “giving it away for free” or that “information wants to be free.” When you can convince my copyists, musicians, actors, directors, orchestrators, record producers, graphic designers, photographers, managers, lawyers and music publishers to work for free, let me know. Until then, it takes money to run my business because I have to hire people to participate in generating the product.”
If you don’t WANT the product, that’s a different issue, and I’ll go back to college and learn how to do something else for a living. But that’s not the issue, is it? The demand is there, just not the willingness to pay.
So fine, we disagree. We will always disagree. That’s why there are laws in place. If everyone agreed, we wouldn’t need any system of arbitration. But for those of you who are on my side, I’m moving on to the next question.
Now what?
It’s so obvious that we need an “iTunes” for sheet music. I’ve got my music listed in two locations. 1. Musicnotes.com (which is a huge distributor of digital sheet music including millions of titles in a vast number of genres) and 2. Newmusicaltheatre.com (which is a boutique seller of digital sheet music geared towards people seeking titles from the next generation of musical theater songwriters). Both have their merits, but neither is (yet?) as global in scope as we all want it to be.
Here are my questions, and I’m specifically interested in hearing from The Dramatists Guild, the Music Publishers Association, ASCAP, BMI, MTI, Hal Leonard, and other organizations as to how they’re addressing the problems at hand. I know they’re trying, as I’ve heard from several of them directly. But I’m looking for progress, people. The scary thing for me is when an entire industry gets fired up and then nothing comes of it but talk.
Could iTunes carry a sheet music division? Who’s got a connection there and can start THAT conversation?
What is the ideal price point for a piece of sheet music? Most people don’t think twice about paying $.99 to iTunes for an mp3 of a song, yet sheet music is priced anywhere from $4 to $15. Would more people be inclined to participate in the process if we weren’t pricing ourselves out of the market?
Aside from printing those nearly invisible notices on each piece of music (mine all say ┬ęGeocate Music (ASCAP), ALL RIGHTS RESERVED), what can be done to educate our market about copyright and its laws?
Worth noting: Fair Use allows that yes, you can photocopy that music out of the songbook and use it in your class, in your talent show, in your voice lesson, in your audition, in your home. It may even be okay to photocopy a song and give it to your friend, though I’ll leave that one up to the lawyers to debate. But it is absolutely not okay when you make something available online for either one or one thousand strangers to devour. It’s different. That’s no longer “fair use,” legally or morally. How do morals guide people when they’re alone in their homes and there is little possibility that they’ll be busted for bad behavior? To what lengths are we willing to go to enforce the law? (Consider Napster.) And if we’re talking about litigation, who’s paying for that?
and finally,
Has no one been able to take down pianofiles.com? Don’t we all agree that that’s the place to begin? I know there are a gazillion sites like this, but taking down the worst offender is perhaps one way to start.
Thanks for engaging in the debate.