Sunday, October 21, 2007

Traditional Music Publishing Takes a Last Shot Over the Bow

Scott Spiegelberg has posted the news that International Music Score Library Project has been shut down, in response to a pair of cease and desist letters from Universal Edition. I believe that this moment will go down as a mistaken, last gasp gesture on Universal's part. As I commented to Scott's post:

UE is being very shortsighted here. For concerts works not yet in public domain, the score on paper, by itself, generates little or no income for a publisher, and often, only production and warehousing costs. When, however, a performer downloads a UE score and performs or records it, she or he must still pay a license for any performance of the work, regardless of whether or not she or he has purchased a physical score. That fee is collected, as usual, via the local rights organization, or in theatrical contexts, via a grand rights contract. Moreover, publishers can continue to extract rental fees for performance-ready parts and other materials which are less easily transmitted online.

Scores online should be thought of as perusal and study materials, with their primary function one of promotion and marketing. Scores online are available to musicians and concert producers for help in planning possible performances and recordings. Publishing houses no longer have monopolies on the means of producing scores, so the essential services that they can provide to a composer (in return for one half of her or his license feed) are marketing their work and, when applicable, managing rentals.

A publisher who does not place scores in online libraries is making a nonsensical distinction between paper scores in physical libraries (which are generally available only to academics) and online scores (which are available to anyone at any time) and is doing their composers a disservice by not using the best marketing tool currently available. A score placed online is a score with a stake in the repertoire of performable music; a score held closely by a traditional publisher is a score held captive.

1 comment:

Thomas D said...

So, what can we do?

Their email address is

The worst part is that UE are citing the works of Mahler (!), Berg, Szymanowski and Respighi - all of whom have now been dead for over 70 years.

(All these composers' works are now also available for a very small price at

This is harassment well beyond the terms of the law.

Is a boycott of UE possible?

After singing Frank Martin's Golgotha (pub. UE) earlier this year - one of the most expensive choral scores I have ever bought, and by a long way the most badly-produced and inaccurate - I would gladly refuse to buy anything more from them.