IMSLP/Petrucci... Great websites or disrespectful?

August 2, 2010 at 09:01 PM ·

As musicians, finding music at the cheapest price possible is sometimes a priority! Online websites like Petrucci or IMSLP offer free sheet music. What is your opinion on it?
-Great website, I love the free music?
-Disrespectful for the composers and publisher, who slave for months/years on pieces?
-I feel bad, but in these hard times, the cheaper the better?
 what do you think?

Replies (43)

August 2, 2010 at 09:28 PM ·

IMSLP (and Petrucci are one in thje same now) only prints music that is in the public domain, or with the author's permission. So, it isn't "disrepectful". In fact, they investigate to make sure it is public domain before making it public. I trust them so that is the site I use. There are composers and authors making their works available there, but they do it knowing it will be downloaded for free. I have found many interesting arrangements there. I'm not only a violinist but an orchestra librarian. I've used IMSLP to investigate many pieces. It's an amazing tool and I thanks them for the work they do.

August 2, 2010 at 09:31 PM ·

Most of what is on these sites was written way before copyright laws existed, and printed with plates engraved decades ago.  The composers are long dead, the publishers made their money (or not) from these plates two generations ago.  It can be a great, cheap way to get something to look at.  Nothing should be available online that isn't in the public domain.

That said, I'll often buy parts.  The downloaded ones aren't always as clear, the printing can be small, and loose, one-sided sheets are a nuisance.  By the time I spend the time and money to go to the printshop to recopy the copies to a legible size, onto 11 X 17 paper, printed two-sided to fold, it would have made more sense to have just bought a printed part.  For chamber music it's nice if everyone has parts from the same set so markings, rehearsal numbers, etc., line up.

August 2, 2010 at 10:19 PM ·

I don't think this is an issue, because, as has been stated, the stuff is out of print. Who should we be paying for it if we don't get it for free? It's my impression we mainly pay for formatting and scholarship and editing when we buy sheet music of historical pieces out of print, and none of those things are guaranteed in an IMSLP upload. But it's a tremendous resource for people who just want to see the basic notes, or don't mind if they're playing off a possibly dodgy-quality piece of sheet music edited for the tastes of an audience from a hundred years ago.

August 2, 2010 at 10:29 PM ·

Nothing has changed, except we no longer have to pay publishers to get prints of music which they don't own and don't pay anyone for, either: now we can do it ourselves.

August 2, 2010 at 11:18 PM ·

It's public domain, and art requires that.  We all need things to riff off of, and if we think orchestras are going broke now, I can't imagine any of them surviving having to pay royalties for Bach and Mozart.  We'd never hear it anymore.

Also, in a lot of areas -- cash-strapped schools or poorer countries -- IMSLP saves their bacon.  I remember hearing one person from a country in central Africa say that one copy of a full quartet score for a given piece cost an entire month's salary for a whole family.

After a work reaches the public domain, it should be as free as a bird.  Without a public sandbox to play in, there is no art.  Absolutely work that has entered the public domain should be free, and remain that way.

August 3, 2010 at 01:29 AM ·


August 3, 2010 at 02:09 AM ·

Hi Corey.

After 50 years,there are no more copyrights. In the ex Soviet Union, artists had to copy by hand writing many unavailable scores, because the State could not provide them. I remember a famous Russian violinist during the 70,s, while resting during Christmas in Montreal and giving masterclasses, who rewrote for me  the entire Sauret Cadenza ( Paganini Concerto 1)  by memory because I could not find the score... He said they were accustomed to do so because of the rarity of the printed scores...

I personally do not care about not being paid for a performance of my compositions. Money is not an issue. It was at the time of Debussy and Ravel, or Brahms. Most of them were also accomplished performers, which I am not. I do compose because it is for me a inner urge. Each time I have completed a work, I think it is self rewarding. I am growing as a human being and self creation is the most beautiful gift we were given, what ever the field.

These site are useful If you need rare score. I remember having downloaded "The Last Rose of Summer " by Ernst. Of course for a great work, like the symphoniies of Malher, I prefer to buy the best editions. But the money goes to the editor,not to the estate...

Great subject -matter and discussion. Thanks. Marc.

August 3, 2010 at 02:34 AM ·

I don't think it is disrespectful at all,either to art or to the composers, for all the reasons others have already given.

I also agree that what you can get from IMSLP is not always the best (or even a very good) version; but it can be extremely handy when you just need to have something to practice, e.g. a Strauss orchestral part when the orchestra librarian says "you'll get your music when everybody else gets theirs - 2 weeks before rehearsals is plenty of time - leave me alone" and hangs up the phone.  (Haha, just kidding.  Mostly.) 

Also very helpful when you are trying to arrange chamber music long-distance:  "What do you want to play this summer [at the Ultima Thule Chamber Music Festival]?  Here are 17 pieces I found on IMSLP - take a look and let me know what you think."  E-mailing PDF's is much faster (& cheaper!) than mailing packages of sheet music.

August 3, 2010 at 03:21 AM ·

Marc, sorry to slide off topic but I have to ask, who was this famous violinist?  I knew it was like this in the URSS because of stories from my teacher who also had to copy scores from the music school public library.  Personally, I'd copy anything by hand (even if very annoying...) to play like them ; )  


August 3, 2010 at 04:10 AM ·

It was Vladimir Spivakov...he was staying at my teacher's house... I kept the manuscript he wrote of course!!!

August 3, 2010 at 04:52 AM ·

All great responses thanks!

August 3, 2010 at 04:56 AM ·

art should be free, otherwise it would never spread.... if we make money then we do, if we don't well we will have to get money from somewhere else!

August 3, 2010 at 08:03 AM ·

As long as it is public domain then no problem. For various of us at various times of our lives then the cost of sheet music can be an issue and this is a great way of enabling it to be distributed at minimum cost. It's almost what the internet was invented for.

I think that the people who go after sheet music are, to some degree, going to be a self-selecting "serious" crowd and will be wanting it for the "right" and respectful reasons.

August 3, 2010 at 09:38 AM ·

"After 50 years,there are no more copyrights." - Only in the USA. I live in France, where it's 70 years, not 50. It depends on where you live. Plus, it's not black and white. I know of certain publishing houses that keep the copyright protection going for a long time by revising sheet music. Fauré's Requiem is a great example. In the USA it was no longer under copyright protection, while in France you couldn't even buy it, you could only rent it, since the publishing house had total control over it still (last year anyway). Sorry, I should say at this point that I am the Librarian for a Symphony Orchestra (and a violinist)! So, it depends on where you live and what was done to the piece. There is a Sheet Music Library you can buy on CD. On it are hundreds and hundreds of pieces that are in the public doman. BUT, you can't copy them and distrubute them to just anyone because the whole thing is under another kind of copyright protection!

As far as the copies vs published sheet music discussion. I agree, we all love to play on sheet music, not copies! Copies are often poorly done and it's hard to tell a sharp from a natural. Especially on copies done from Breitkopf and Hartels sheet music. Plus, often people reduce it too much leaving large margins and that makes the notes even smaller.

August 3, 2010 at 10:31 AM ·

In the US, thanks to the US government being essentially bought, paid for, and owned by commercial interests, copyright for currently-produced work is for 70 years beyond the death of the artist, or 120 years, for corporately-produced work.

Be sure to thank your congressman next time you see him, if he'll lower himself to talk to you. He's the one who keeps extending the time limits to protect the US film industry's interests over your own. Read about the Mickey Mouse Protection Act here:

August 3, 2010 at 03:47 PM ·

So, Michael, once again corporate rights are greater than individual rights?  Grrrr.

August 3, 2010 at 06:21 PM ·

It is not a dumb question... As a lawyer ( I work in the criminal matters) I cannot provide you with the correct answer. I believe it has to do with international conventions and the public domain. I will come on this one later. There are lawyers who are specialised in those particular matters...

August 3, 2010 at 06:25 PM ·

The concept is the promotion of culture. First you promote it by protecting the maker, then you protect it by allowing it to be disseminated.

Right now there are many, many movies and some music, also, that can't be utilized because while they're in copyright, the copyright owners are companies that have dissolved. Some copyright-attentive people have predicted will be a bigger problem in the future because many movies today are made by companies which exist only for the making of one movie (look at the credits). They tap the market, sell limited rights to distributors (not the whole copyright) then they effectively become non-existent.

If copyright were forever, these things would become controlled forever. You wouldn't be reading Shakespeare or playing Bach because along the way the rights owner would have become indefinite. The ONLY available cultural productions would be those where definite owners still existed.

August 3, 2010 at 06:33 PM ·

Looked in my books of legislation. Many countries did legislate on that matter previously to 1886. It is the convention of Berne ( 1886) that was the major turning point for the protection of copyrights in most the artistic domains. It was initiated by Victor Hugo, the french writer.The convention has been revised many times until 1971. The protection will last for 50 years after the death of the author. United States did finally signed and approved the Convention in 1989.

August 3, 2010 at 06:38 PM ·

Michael: BTW, you make beautiful violins...your website is quite interesting.

August 3, 2010 at 06:41 PM ·

 My understanding is that the 50 years after death has been extended to 70 years after death to allow for longer life expectancy ie. two generations. Plus in certain countries there are extra years to allow for the war years.

August 3, 2010 at 06:48 PM ·

Nigel: the Berne Convention ( 1948) allows to any country to adopt more convenient terms. The minimum is 50 years....In 1790 in the U.S.A.,the copyright Act gave a protection for only 14 years.

August 3, 2010 at 07:34 PM ·

 Marc; thanks for the clarification, I wasn't certain that 50 years was an actual prescribed minimum although had an inkling that it was. Certainly there's a trend to go to 70years; when I was with APRA it was 50 years but they've now gone to 70 years and SACEM has been at 70 years for longer.

Don; it would be passed to the composer's estate.

August 3, 2010 at 07:47 PM ·

Don: the estate...

August 3, 2010 at 08:04 PM ·

Why does copyright expire? This is a good phiosophical as well as legal question. Theoretically, rarely any legal right is absolute; almost all rights are subject to a balancing act to make sure other interests and rights are taken into consideration in order for one to be excercised properly. We have right to free speech, but only if our speech won't cause serious harm or damage to others. We have no right to incite violence or spread falsehood causing damage to other people's reputation. We want to protect artistic expressions and reward artists' creativity and labour, but public also needs to access and reasonable/fair use of the artistic products in order for arts to flourish and to make a society a better place because of this. The timeline for 50 years after death is somewhat arbitrary. I forgot the rationale behind it (learned this more than 10 year ago). But  In common law, there is a big difference between tangible and intangible properties. Your land may be passed down from generation to generation in perpetuity, the same cannot be said about your reputation, your creative expressions.

By the way, the best things are free. How many of you use google and YouTubes each day and what your life would be like without these free services?  What would be like without There is a lot to be said about the need for a rich public domain. What I see is human generosity and good will.  The world will be a better place if we can focus more on giving.

August 3, 2010 at 09:00 PM ·

This clarifies the idea about copyrights, but what do you think the composers would say? Would they enjoy having their music on the "mystic" internet where everyone can get a copy of a score?
Just another comment to further the discussion :)

August 3, 2010 at 09:15 PM ·

Corey: It is just the beginning of the story with internet. The very first concept is based on a free market destined to everyone. It will take time before all the legislation will be in accordance with it. As you know, many illegal downloads of infinite production in music making and movies do exist actually.It took about 300 hundred years to perfect all the legal system and still,it does not apply in Russia and several other countries.

It is a very complicated matter indeed. I like your subject-matters on the discussion board. It is very interesting...

August 3, 2010 at 09:46 PM ·

Don, I agree. Yes there are bureaucrats here in Canada who decide, at least for the composers, who should be played or not... Most of them in my case are composers, civil servants, that established regulations of subsidies for the orchestras and ensemble, promoting the "canadian values" (B.S.) If you are not receiveing any subventions, you are completely out of the circuit. Most of them are in the domain of serial music... I call them the serial killers. To be eligible to the subsidies, you must be promoted by a composer of the gang and must demonstrate that your works have been broadcast and played in concert. You must submit evidence. Here, in Quebec, everyone knows everybody in our very small music community. It is easy to get bashed. There is no room for independant composers, not at all. This is anti creative and not in the interest of the public domain which will never be aware of what is going around. We have an association of independant composers here, and many of the members were famous soloists and teachers. Some of them wrote majestic works...But they are seldom played and the conductors are totally ignorant of their existence. Why, because their spies are in all the administrations of the Orchestras...

August 3, 2010 at 11:18 PM ·

Another issue with works under copyright is what it costs to perform them.  I was librarian for the orchestra I play in for several years.  Rental fees on a copyrighted work are often around $800 or more for one performance of one piece, no recording or other rights, no children's or educational presentation in conjunction with the concert- that would all cost extra.  This is for a free concert, given by a community orchestra with a budget in the mid-five figure range.  BMI and ASCAP payments are on top of this.  A Beethoven symphony we own the parts to- free, play it as many times as you like, play it for the kids, do a pre-concert lecture/demonstration with it, it's all free.  Renting parts for a piece in the public domain might be, at most, around $125 with far fewer limitations.  Do a handful of contemporary pieces in a season, and watch the library budget eat the orchestra.

I'm not convinced that Mozart, Pergolesi, Cervantes, or Michaelangelo would think that their descendants should still be getting a piece of everything they did.

August 3, 2010 at 11:59 PM ·

As I said in another discussion, there are no budjets anymore for the creation of a new symphony or an opera. It costs to much to the administration of an orchestra. That is why they are imposing a time limit of 10 minutes. There are no longer patrons...they moved to football and baseball or hochey...

August 4, 2010 at 06:10 AM ·

@Don, "A copyright is not more intangible than any other legal document (?)   Is a house deed more valuable ?  Maybe not !"

Copyright is intangible in that it protects, not the the piece of sheet music, but the expression of the music, or a book, or a painting, what have you. What's more interesting is that ideas are not protected by copyright law so if you take someone's music idea from his work and go on developing it on your own, you are safe to do so as long as the expression of this idea is not copied. When we talk about the right to a piece of land, the protected right is the right to owning and/or using a piece of land, but not the right to the deed. A deed is just a legal document.

I always find copyright is a strange animal. It is supposed to protect the authors but I know a professor got into big trouble by sharing his own book among his students for free. The more you share and exchange ideas, the better ones you'll get. Copyright evidently has the effect of restricting free flow of ideas, especially among those who don't have the resource to access the works. With sheet music, this restriction on music-making is well-stated above by others. Indeed, what does a composer want more? His work rarely played during his lifetime due to the unaffordability of royalty, or his work being played freely and frequently without being paid? It's likely to be somewhere in between -- back to the idea of balancing again.

August 4, 2010 at 01:17 PM ·

The more I read, the more I'm overjoyed about the orchestra I play in! I am on the BOD of the orchestra also. It is the Musical Director and Conductor who decides what we play. very rarely do we shoot it down, and I can't remember the last time it was about money. If we are going to have an expensive program (hiring solists, travelling costs, equipment, etc) we simply charge a tiny bit more for our tickets to defray the cost. We also negotiate with the people who are hiring us, and the choirs, and I guess we are good at that. We even did Beethoven's 9th with little cannons! Or Strauss with ballet dansers off to the side. A huge program with 300 chorists does not scare us. Each Fall we do a Requiem or Magnificat, or some such large choral work with a full orchestra and solists. We travel to other countries, and all of this is done without sponsors and minimal funding. While we don't refuse programs because we won't make money on them, we certainly try to do programs we know we will make good money on, knowing it will alleviate the cost of the programs that cost us.

As far as Composers are concerned, I live in France....a country that still supports the Arts. The economic downturn we are all feeling have benefitted local community or university orchestras because it's cheaper! And, we have played original pieces and works by unknown modern composers who are still living.

August 4, 2010 at 02:51 PM ·

 Lisa F.; concerning your last paragraph, i'm not sure what point you are trying to make - I am a composer and I live in France.

In any event the performing rights organisation here, SACEM, seems a very good one by comparison to other countries and I've heard other composers living here (from USA) express this.

August 4, 2010 at 04:23 PM ·

 Don, the laws of the country apply to all protected music performed or broadcast etc. in that particular country irrespective of where the composer is from.

Composers rely on a P.R. organisation to collect their royalties. It's possible to live in one country but belong to a PRO in another ie. a composer from the USA who was an ASCAP member could come and live in France but remain an ASCAP member, or they could transfer to SACEM. If they had a lot of music performed here the royalties are collected by SACEM and passed to ASCAP to pass on to the composer. to an extent the decision of which PRO to belong to can be made considering where most of a composers music is likely to be played, as when royalties are passed from one PRO to another under their reciprocal arrangements 10% is retained by the PRO that collected it. 

I hope that answers your question.

August 4, 2010 at 05:04 PM ·

" Lisa F.; concerning your last paragraph, i'm not sure what point you are trying to make - I am a composer and I live in France."

Sorry Nigel, I have no idea what you don't understand about what I said. Plus, I'm not sure what you being a composer and living in France, other than being coincidental, has to do with it in terms of an explanation. Oh well!

If you want me to clarify my point, I'd be glad to. My simple point is a response to someone who was lamenting the lack of support they have remarked for Composers. They stated that Composers are writing shorter pieces, I believe, so that symphonies are no longer being written. I was differing with that assessment in that it may just depend on where you live. Since, living in France and playing in a Symphony Orchestra, being on the BOD, I have not experienced that. Does that help?

August 4, 2010 at 06:17 PM ·

Marc, I'd say that the opera world is much more amenable to new work than the orchestral world is.  The opera where I live presents a new work pretty much every summer, most of which they have commissioned, either alone or with another company.  Some of them have been fabulous. 

The community orchestra I am in does lots of 20th century repertoire, including pieces we commission.  We are lucky to have one very generous patron who funds a commissioned piece for us each year- yeah, usually about 10 minutes!  The local professional groups do much less of it, probably because they are worried about ticket sales.  (We ask for donations at the door, but admission is free.)  We often have audience members who specifically come to hear the Vaughn Williams symphony or Ginastera concerto we're playing rather than another Beethoven/Brahms/Haydn symphony.  (We play those too.)

August 4, 2010 at 06:45 PM ·

 As far as Composers are concerned, I live in France....a country that still supports the Arts.

As this is a thread about composers having their music online for free download, it seemed to me that you were talking about the situation of French composers from your sentence above, although it's true that you didn't actually specifically state that. As I live and work in France I am experiencing the situation here first hand, that's why I mentioned my own situation. In any event a lot of countries "still support the arts".

August 4, 2010 at 06:51 PM ·

Lisa: At the turn of the last century, there were many orchestras that were solely dedicated to the creation of new works... It started at the time of Debussy. This period,1896 1939 was the richest in all the history of music...New ideas emerged ( Stravinski, Ravel,Shoenberg, Milhaud, Berg...). You are lucky to have such an open -minded orchestra... Maybe I should submit my fith symphony ( Tonal-atonal and seriel), all based on a Choral by J.S.Bach... Who knows...

August 4, 2010 at 07:54 PM · never know!! Although I have to admit that we don't do very many atonal works....most of it is rather traditional. But, your work sounds very interesting, is it choral as well? I wouldn't say we play a lot of contemporary pieces, but we try to! For example, I believe this season we are doing a concert series based on "The Devil" and half of it is a composition by a modern composer, that I haven't yet seen the sheet music for so I'm very curious!

Lisa - I totally hear you. Being the Orchestra Librarian I'm always concerned with the cost of sheet music. But, on the other hand, many modern composers will let you use thier sheet music for free, at least that has been my experience. Your orchestra sounds great, congrats!

Nigel, I was responding to something someone said...that I now cannot find!

August 6, 2010 at 05:21 PM ·

This is a really cool public service that makes it easy for people rep they wouldn't normally have access to.  Chamber groups especially have a large amount of trios, quartets, duos, etc. to look at and possibly record and perform!  J

August 8, 2010 at 05:35 AM ·

To some extent the IMLSP site may actually increase music sales.  How it works for me is that I get to try out a lot of pieces but when I find something I want to work on seriously I then want a hard copy - and at least for the baroque music in a version that I like.  This means ordering a new copy (or getting one at our local shop which is pretty good).  Thus, what IMSLP does for me is to open up a vast vista of music ideas as an intro but not an end in itself. 

August 8, 2010 at 09:51 AM ·

I agree Elise. I've discovered, or rediscovered pieces and been able to glance at them and make up my mind to buy the sheet music thanks to IMSLP.

August 8, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

1. Works published from 1909 through 1921.
The initial copyrighted term of the work was 28 years from the date of publication. If the copyright was renewed during the 28th year, the copyright was extended for an additional 28-year period.

2. Works published from 1922 through 1963.
The initial copyrighted term of the work was 28 years from the date of publication. If the copyright was renewed during the 28th year, the copyright was extended for an additional 67-year period.

3. Works published from 1964 through 1978.
The initial copyrighted term of the work was 28 years from the date of publication, with an automatic renewal of an additional 67 years.

4. Works created on or after January 1, 1978.
The following rules apply to published and unpublished works:

  • For one author, the work is copyright-protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.
  • For joint authors, the work is protected for the life of the surviving author plus 70 years.
  • For works made for hire, the work is protected for 95 years from the first publication or 120 years from the date of its creation, whichever is less.
  • For anonymous and pseudonymous works, the work is protected for 95 years from the first publication or 120 years from the date of its creation, whichever is less. (However, if the author's name is disclosed to the U.S. Copyright Office, the work is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.)

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