I’m a member of the Society of Composers, Inc., or SCI. Occasionally (ok, very rarely), there is a conversation on the SCI listserv that I find compelling for one reason or another. Over the last few days, there has been a discussion of photocopying scores. Specifically, choirs performing from photocopied music as opposed to buying enough copies. I would say that anyone who has spent any time singing in choirs has seen this. The composers on the SCI list seem to consider this a personal affront to their cultural value. (The thread is actually called “Choral Crimes”!) Here are a few anonymous quotes from the spicier side of the discourse:
“One of the most serious crimes in our musical community is that of choral directors photocopying the music of living composers in order to illegally perform their music…It is time for singers to report these atrocities!”
“Can we establish some sort of collective to reward whistle blowers?”
“Stealing is stealing. Don’t rationalize it.”
“However, a college or university choral director who photocopies choral parts that are not public domain—and whose choristers know that he does it—he or she is not only breaking the law, but is setting a bad moral and musical example for the singers who respect him or her. Those choral directors ARE evil people!”
First, allow me to say this: piracy, whatever you think of it, is not stealing. Intellectual property law professor Lawrence Lessig 1 points out an important distinction in his book Free Culture. If I steal a score from the music store, that’s a score the store paid for and that they no longer have to sell. However, if I check a score out of the library and make a photocopy, that isn’t depriving anyone of a sale. If I could afford to buy the score, I probably would have. My copying of the score does not represent a lost sale to a music store, a publisher, a distributor, or (most importantly) a composer.
In the SCI discussion, church and school choir conductors are the chief villains. Churches and schools (particularly public schools) are not exactly known the world over for their bulging arts budgets. The composers taking issue with these performers seem to think that they could put their kids through college if only these horrible, cheapskate conductors would put their money where their batons are and do the “right” thing. WRONG! The options are not photocopying your music on the one hand and purchasing it on the other; the options are photocopying your music and NOT PERFORMING IT AT ALL!
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hear an “illicit” performance of a contemporary work than a legal performance of a public domain work by Mozart or Scarlatti. I’ve sold my music, and I will hopefully continue to do so. But don’t think for a second that I would tell somebody not to copy my work. Steal my music!
Got any thoughts on intellectual property? I knew you would. Feel free to have your voice heard in the comments.