Man creates free online repository of Classical music, but some publishers are crying foul

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly

Ed Guo gives a presentation on the Internet Music Score Library Project, which he started, at MIT.

On Feb. 16, 2006, Edward W. Guo, an 18-year-old student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, started a website called Internet Music Score Library Project (IMSLP). This site provides a vast number of classical music scores, also known as sheet music, for free to the public. The scores ranges from classics such as Beethoven’s piano sonatas to more contemporary musicians.

Guo said the reason he wanted to create this outlet for classical music was due to his childhood in China, when his parents sent him to study the violin at the Shanghai Conservatory. There, he was limited to the amount of orchestral scores available. He always wanted to play more music than what was offered.

At age 13, he immigrated to North America and attended high school in Vancouver, British Columbia. Eventually, he entered the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston to study composition. There, he was presented with an abundance of sources to get scores from (libraries and stores). But the ‘musical deprivation’ during his childhood still affected him. That was when the idea of creating a bank of digital scores came to mind.

At age 19, Guo built an early version of the Internet Music Score Library Project. According to The New York Times, the project grew to be one of the largest scores repositories anywhere. It has 85,000 parts for nearly 35,000 works, with several thousand being added monthly.

With such success, Guo also became involved in conflicts involving copyright infringement and faced the anger of established music publishers.

Universal Edition, a music publisher based in Europe, threatened the site with a cease-and-desist order for copyright infringement in October 2007, causing Guo to close down. On the site, certain scores were found to  violate copyright laws, according to European laws (not necessarily Canadian laws, where the site’s server operated from).

Guo and about 15,000 volunteers took down the scores on his site that violated copyright laws.

From there, he set up a new company called Project Petrucci, of which he is co-founder. Project Petrucci took ownership of the site to remove Guo’s personal liability. The new ownership provided a disclaimer on the new IMSLP, saying that the scores provided are not guaranteed to be in the public domain.

In a lecture at MIT last year, Guo said, “IMSLP is a site that tries to be legal. We have a per-copier system for staying legal and prevent any copyrighted work from being on the site. … We cannot know the copyright laws of 200 countries around the world, [so] it is up to the downloader.”

Unfortunately, other publishers and Guo do not see eye-to-eye. Some publishers believe that Guo’s disclaimer is not enough. Providing a site where scores are open to the public can ultimately cause harm to new composers who are trying to make a living off of creating music because the sale of scores from Classical composers help offset the costs of printing for new composers.

Currently, the site has about 40,000 visitors a day. ♦

For more information on the Internet Music Score Library Project, visit imslp.org.

Rebecca W. Lee contributed to this report.

6 Responses to “Man creates free online repository of Classical music, but some publishers are crying foul”

  1. It’s imperative that more people make this exact point.

  2. Marcelina says:

    Hey, that’s poeflwur. Thanks for the news.

  3. Doug George says:

    your quoted website should be: imslp.org

    as it is it takes you to International Ms Leather!!

  4. Doug George says:

    Your quoted website should be:

  5. Tom says:

    If you want to hear a song you go to itunes store and pay a buck or two. CDs are for collectors and even if you get them you probably will rip them onto your mobile device. Put this same concept onto scores and sheet music. The scores can be published online by the composers and users can pay a price for it, for the musician that is settled down they can buy it from the publishers which will cost more for printing. Say, a conservatory violin student travels overseas to study for 2 years and brings over a load of music and continues to buy more (hardcopies) which will add up to the weight of the luggage when returning. Won’t it be easier if all of them were pdf? Which also solves the problem when you forget a certain part in a hard to find concerto score which was left behind in your shelf when you traveled elsewhere?

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