Friday, July 02, 2010

The Copyright Debate Continues

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. (which is a huge distributor of digital sheet music including millions of titles in a vast number of genres) and 2. (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 ©Geocate 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 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.


Susan Egan said...

So much I want to say, but in essence it boils down to: I stand in solidarity with you. Let me just say that the argument of "information should be free" isn't even relevant. Music isn't information -- some fact or formula -- it is a creation, and thus a product. It is intellectual property ... PROPERTY, which by definition indicates ownership by its creator.

Yes we need an iTunes for sheet music, but as a frequent purchasing downloader of music, the sites that exist are great -- especially with the technology whereby I can choose whatever key I want! Well worth the $3.95 or so I pay. I also appreciate that my name is then PRINTED on the music indicating that I have indeed purchased it. But I have a plethora of thoughts on how to make these sites more popular, including frequent buyer bonuses, links from iTunes to sheet music sites, etc.

Loved JRB's conversation with Eleanor -- I was moved by the patience he showed and the care with which he wrote to her. And his reasoning is crystal clear, consistent, witty and so well articulated.

Thanks to those like you who are speaking out, I think the tipping point is coming that will change the acceptability (if not the thinking) of those who feel entitles to your artistry gratis. But I also think we need clearer copyright laws that acknowledge the internet and new technology.

Good job, you power couple ...


stephen said...

Hi Georgia,
This is a really fascinating article and your mention for the need of an iTunes store for sheet music reminded me that I really wish something existed for watching taped Broadway and off Broadway productions. I know that this has been done for a limited number of musicals (Sweeney Todd, Oklahoma, to name a few) but there are so many more that have since gone off Broadway that I would really appreciate seeing the original cast perform. I can understand the need not to undercut shows that are still being performed night after night, but since watching it on TV is such a different experience than seeing it in person, I think that they suit two different needs. I was told by a previous director that copies of Broadways shows are taped, but they aren't really accessible to the general audience. Given the wide distribution of iTunes for movies and the lower overhead cost than making physical copies, I don't see why this couldn't be profitable and popular.

To give an example, I'm sure many people (myself included) would be willing to pay far more for an OBC copy of any of your husband's performances than any average hollywood movie. It could also be used in cases where shows don't make it out of regional theatre or only was on Broadway for a limited period of time but there is still a demand for people who just couldn't travel to the theatre during that window of time. (ie your new musical) Anyway, I really love your stuff so I hope you don't get discouraged because I certainly will keep buying it!

Take care,

Rachel Velarde said...

Hear, hear!! I have enjoyed your blog and Jason's. I agree with Susan about his patience and clarity of articulation.
I am currently at the NATS conference in Salt Lake City and ran across a fabulous publishing company (from a lunchtime publishers showcase), run by a husband & wife team of composer/singers, that is a bout 5 years old. I just spent a LARGE amount of money with them. :-)
The company is called Graphite Publishing (out of Minneapolis). They publish "music by living composers." Each piece of music is fully pre-viewable (is there such a word?) online before purchase - you can even print out a copy (with a watermark) before purchase so you can take it to the piano.
The BEST part is their pricing philosophy. They charge $3.50 per piece (more for song sets, etc - understandably), but each piece is available individually. HALF of the consumer cost of the piece of music ($1.75 per piece) goes directly to the composer. Each download entitles the purchaser to print TWO copies of the music - one for themselves and one for the pianist. We couldn't do it without them!
I find, in light of your recent posting, this a FABULOUS business model for publishing. It "feels right" to me - the price point, the amount back to the composer (something I always want to be as much as possible), the fact that I will have two legal copies.
I also found the quality of the works to be of a very high standard across the board.
Check them out as both a distributor of art song and as a new business model for distribution of legal copies of sheet music.
I hope they inspire more hope for the future!
THANK YOU (and JRB) for the amazing music that you compose and make available legally for those of us both singing and performing. You ARE appreciated, and we DO purchase your music! ;-P

BRK said...

I have to disagree with your philosophy on this issue, Georgia. It is not that I want to see sheet music creators in the poor house, but the world has changed, and individuals do not have to rely on organized publishers to produce copies of sheet music for them. Educating the public about the plight of music creators is basically asking for donations, regardless of what the law says.

There are alternatives to demonizing people who are exchanging sheet music on the Internet. One possibility is to endorse it for non-commercial use -- there are Creative Commons licenses which specify such terms. I will admit, however, that such a license may not be desirable if your income comes mainly from the sale of sheet music to individuals for noncommercial use.

Another alternative is to try to create an online store for sheet music, where things are easy to find and easy to pay for. However, this may only capture sales from people who were planning to buy the music to begin with, and I see no evidence that such people make up the majority of the online communities you have come across. Furthermore, competing with those communities is not going to be easy if you are demanding money in exchange for the music. Really, the best time to create an online store for sheet music would have been 20 years ago, possibly even further back, so that it could have already been in place when the Internet became popular among consumers. The mark was simply missed, and trying to make up for so much lost time is not going to be easy.

Skinkie said...

but feel extremely entitled to a product they had nothing to do with generating.

Those nice philosophers that you mention always use 'standing on the shoulders of giants'. Isn't it obvious for you that many, if not all, composers work, copy and get inspired from the best composers of all time. Can I name Johann Pachelbel? Just because it is in our culture; it is what we like, thus trying to revive?

Now I totally agree that someone should get paid for its service, but getting paid for a work that written for someone else in the first place should not trigger 70 years of instant fame, 5 is enough. If your masterpiece doesn't generate enough revenue in the first 5 years of publishing, your piece is not commercially attractive. There is no need to have us all suffer from the statistical long tail called copyright.

Christopher Fulmer said...

An iTunes for sheet music would definitely be a good thing. For popular music, however, it's not enough, since the quality of such sheet music is often quite horrible and of significantly poorer quality than what's available for free when fans transcribe it themselves. If there's going to be a serious paid alternative to free sharing of songs, then either the quality of the material offered has to improve dramatically, or there needs to be an easy way to return the electronic copy for a refund.

Anonymous said...

The dissenters are intelligent opinions here. The rest is antiquated thinking. You don't need to get paid a million times for something you did once. THat's greed, not the other way around.