If you've been paying close attention lately, or if you're in my inner circle or happen to have been at one of my recent master classes, you'll know a little bit about my latest soapbox issue.
A few months ago I was catching up with a friend who is currently a college student, and he was excited to share with me how popular my music was becoming at his school. "And it's not just here," he said, opening his computer. "You wouldn't believe how many people are talking about your music online." And then he proudly showed me a website where people were requesting copies of my sheet music online. I was flattered. Awww... how nice to be popular. And then he showed me the list of people who were offering to TRADE copies of my sheet music. On this website, to which you had to be a member, people were posting things like "I have a copy of ALPHABET CITY CYCLE I will trade for .... [whatever]" or "Anyone got the sheet music to BIG WINGS? I have much to trade!"
I was no longer flattered, but I let it go.
Within the next few weeks, probably because I was now paying attention, I starting noticing when google alerts mentioned websites where people could download my music for free. And then my manager wrote me a note that said "I hate that it's so easy to get your music online. Check out this website: [blah blah blah]." I looked, and within two minutes had downloaded to my own hard-drive a copy of a piece of music I had never released to the public. And now I was really getting angry.
I'll stop telling the story for just a minute to explain why I was getting angry. For starters, selling or trading copyrighted material to which you do not own the copyright is illegal. So we can start there. But further, selling or trading copyrighted material which I own and sell as part of how I make my living is totally invasive, violating, and well, illegal. If someone distributes a piece of music that I could otherwise have sold, that distributor has stolen directly from me -- taken money out of my pocket. And if that music is published (in my case by Hal Leonard), then you're stealing from them, too. When you're talking about one piece of music, $8 here or there, I suppose it's not a huge deal. But once you open up your sheet music files to the world wide web, we're talking about thousands of dollars at stake, and suddenly it matters.
Back to the story. Annoyed and miffed, I decided to write the offending website a cease and desist letter.
On Apr 9, 2009, at 2:56 PM, georgiastitt sent a message using the
contact form at http://www.pianofiles.com/contact.
Hi. I joined this website because I am a composer and it has come to my attention that my copyrighted material, which I sell as part of my income, is being traded on this website for free. No one in this web community, or ANY web community, has my permission to sell, copy, distribute, or trade any of my sheet music and by doing so is subject to legal action from my attorney. I am sending a copy of this message to both my lawyer and my manager. It is imperative that any music written by me or in any way bearing my name be removed from your site immediately. Trading copyrighted material is illegal. Thank you for your immediate attention in this matter. Georgia Stitt (www.georgiastitt.com)
And then, because that had felt like a more or less futile exercise, I wrote a letter to all my fellow composers and lyricists in New York and Los Angeles, our agents, managers, lawyers, music licensors and publishers, and explained that we had a problem. The letter went out to over 100 of the most prominent players in the musical theater industry, and the response I got was overwhelming.
"You have my support."
"What can I do?"
"This has been plaguing me forever."
"I thought we were the only ones who cared about this."
Lots of conversation has emerged, and responses came from the Dramatists Guild, MTI, Warner-Chappell, The National Music Publishers' Association, The Songwriters Guild, Jeff Marx, John Bucchino, Lucy Simon, Marsha Norman, Charles Strouse, David Shire, David Zippel, Stephen Schwartz, Mark Shaiman, young composers, rock stars, etc., etc., etc. One lyricist mentioned that she estimated she had lost nearly $50,000 due to illegal downloads of her sheet music (all of which is published and commercially available). A young composer whose music is performed every single time I give a master class at a college told me he could barely pay his rent.
I'll cut ahead to tell you that having identified the problem (music piracy is rampant and musical theater songwriters, among others, are suffering from it), the resolution seems to be two-fold.
1. Many of the people who are trading or even selling sheet music do not know that they are doing anything wrong. It is our job to educate our fans, the people WHO LOVE THE SONGS WE CREATE, about why it is important to purchase the sheet music they sing.
2. We have to make the sheet music that we write more readily available to the people who want to sing it. Just this week at a master class in Texas the students told me that they would be willing to pay $10 for a piece of sheet music written by a favorite composer but they just didn't know where to find it. If we're not reaching our fans, many of whom think it's COOL to have a brand new piece of sheet music that no one else has, they will find it elsewhere. It has been suggested that we might want to create an iTunes-like store for sheet music where everything is available in one place, composers young and old are represented, and fans know where to look to find it. I am encouraging the young people I meet to use the internet as a research tool, finding the websites of the composers they love and asking them how best to procure the music they so desire. But in this world of instant gratification, awaiting a response from a busy composer is less satisfying that pushing a few buttons and having music on your desktop. Several websites that already exist (musicnotes.com, sheetmusicplus.com and freehandmusic.com) seem to have the technology in place but are not yet representing the youngest, unpublished composers who are trying diligently to sell their music on their own websites.
These issues are complicated and large, and I am now on a committee at the Dramatists Guild to figure out how to proceed. But I wanted very much to open the discussion to you readers of this blog. Now go ahead. Tell me what you think.