Tag Archives: music copyright

IMSLP for the Public Domain: Golan Brief Submitted

I’m happy to report that the amicus brief announced a few weeks ago, where IMSLP asks the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the restoration of certain copyrights including that of Shostakovich, has been submitted to the Supreme Court.  The entire brief is available for public viewing along with the other amicus briefs submitted, all of which can be found in the Supreme Court case file.

Currently only briefs supporting Golan have been submitted. The Government’s brief in opposition, and amicus briefs supporting the Government or neither party, will be available later in August.  The Supreme Court has set the date for oral argument to be Wednesday, October 5th, 2011.

This excellent amicus brief is the result of the hard work of a very bright group of Harvard Law School students supervised by Professor Charles Nesson.  I want to thank them on behalf of all IMSLP contributors and users for their dedication and energy, especially in the face of a very tight deadline.  Here is a list of students who participated in writing the brief:

Phillip Hill (HLS ’13) (Project Leader)
Matt Becker (HLS ’13)
Ruchi Desai (HLS ’13)
Tim Grayson (HLS ’13)
Jeff Habenicht (HLS ’13)
Laura Hill (HLS ’13)
Shira Hoffman (HLS ’13)
Wes Lewis (HLS ’13)
Nathan Lovejoy (HLS ’13)
Joey Seiler (HLS ’12)
Ellen Shapiro (HLS ’13)
David Simon (HLS LL.M. ’11)
George Tsivin (HLS ’13)
Huaou Yan (HLS ’13)

Golan v. Holder: Should Shostakovich be Public Domain?

I am happy to announce that IMSLP will be submitting an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Golan v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of copyright restoration under Section 514 of the URAA.  A group of Harvard Law School students led by Phillip Hill (HLS ’13) and supervised by Professor Charles Nesson will be representing IMSLP.

IMSLP will be supporting the petitioners, which includes a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, film archivists, and motion picture distributors.  If we prevail and URAA § 514 is struck down as unconstitutional, all of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky (among others) will be public domain in the U.S., and potentially available on IMSLP.

In fact, the music of these three composers was public domain before URAA § 514 restored copyright in 1995.  This restoration is very dangerous precedent: Congress believes it has the power to usurp the public domain for the benefit of a few copyright holders, despite the Constitution limiting copyright to “limited Times”.  This limitation would seem meaningless if Congress could restore copyright whenever it wants.  If we allow URAA § 514 to stand, we would be one big step closer to perpetual copyright.

Furthermore, URAA § 514 also tramples on the right to freedom of speech of all artists who relied on these works before the copyright was restored, by forcing them to retract and make unavailable derivative works that were created legally.

IMSLP greatly welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to take up such an important case, and hope to see an affirmation of the strength and vitality of the public domain.

Classical Music & the Cloud

Would you trust that man with your music files?

But there’s no reason why Steve shouldn’t look after your program files. Why bother keeping, say, MS Word on three different machines? Let Steve store the code in his cloud, updating it, keeping it virus free, giving you access to it when you need to write a letter.

But if he gets his hands on your music files, how soon before he allows some corporate suit from Sony access to them? Or access is driven by court order as music labels seek to enforce their interpretation of copyright law?

Better for music to stay on tens of millions of privately owned machines. It’s too important to be left to excitable Steve, his corporate friends and their $2,000 per hour lawyers.

What is IMSLP?


When a composer writes a piece of music, he owns that music unless he gives ownership away. That means if someone wants the musical score, they must abide by his requirements. Equally, if they wish to perform the work they must give him royalties.

But copyright falls away after a number of years. The composer, his heirs and descendants, don't own it forever. The precise point when copyright vanishes depends on national law. When a work falls out of copyright, it is in the public domain.

Classical music copyright law is fiddly and complex, but the basic rule is that copyright persists for the composer or other author (if any) for 50 years after his death (Canada) or life plus 70 years (EU).

It's in that space where a work enters the public domain that IMSLP operates. Thousands of classical music scores and recordings emerge from copyright every year. IMSLP, run by volunteers using Wiki collaborative software, upload these scores and recordings to a server so they are available for anyone to download.

Like many good ideas, IMSLP is simple and elegant. In 2009, IMSLP won the MERLOT Classics award for Music and was named one of the Top 100 Web Sites by PC Magazine. It gets millions of hits per day.

At the time of writing, IMSLP holds over 71,000 scores by over 4,000 composers. These works would otherwise be sitting in libraries gathering dust, but now can see the light of day. It's a fabulous project. Anyone can get involved.