Copyright: the right to make copies. Someone has it. Everyone else doesn’t. It seems so easy to understand and is, for those of us who create and own intellectual property. But the concept has always been a slippery one when we try to explain it to “everyone else.”
Jason Robert Brown once posted a dialogue he had on his website with a fifteen-year-old girl who had been trading his music online for free. The conversation, “Fighting With Teenagers” was reprinted in the November/December 2010 edition of The Dramatist. I quote here from Eleanor (the teenager): “Did you think about the aspiring actors and actresses who really need some good sheet music?... Performers really need quick and easy ways to attain good sheet music and you’re stopping a lot of people from getting what they need. It matters a great deal to them that they can get it for free. Why does it matter to you so much that they don’t?”
It’s clear from Eleanor’s comments throughout the discussion that she’s articulate, impassioned and has some knowledge of musical theatre. Yet at the point quoted above, Jason had already clearly stated: “It affects my livelihood considerably when people can get free copies of my work from strangers and I don’t get anything in return.”
So what does she mean by the question: “Why does it matter so much to you that they don’t (get your songs for free)?” Since she’s obviously an intelligent girl, the words probably don’t mean what they seem to mean. They seem to mean: “even though you just told me that by trading your songs for free I’m cheating you out of income and that creates a hardship for you, why do you mind?”
Her words must mean something else. Perhaps they mean: “I have this cultural, generational blind spot that, having grown up in the internet age, allows me to get intellectual property for free without thinking about all this. It’s inconvenient to pay for something I can get for free. Why are you doing this to me?”
The answer is, that as destructive and unfair to composers, lyricists and publishers as the illegal photocopying of sheet music has been over the years, the spread of free sheet music sites on the internet is threatening the very existence of professional publishing.
In response to this threat, a group of writers at the Dramatists Guild formed the “Anti- Piracy Committee” to combat the piracy of sheet music on the internet. I chair the committee, with members Georgia Stitt, Andrew Lippa, Stephen Flaherty, Kait Kerrigan, Brian Lowdermilk, and Sean Patrick Flahaven.
In studying this issue from every possible angle, our committee determined that the first thing each writer can do is to give the public a good, legal alternative to stealing their songs online. If our songs are not available legally on the internet and can only be purchased in music stores or by mail, or if a song of ours is in demand but not available at all, we may inadvertently be contributing to a climate that breeds piracy.
Many Dramatists Guild composers and lyricists already have their songs for sale online, and if we do, we need to be sure to incorporate this information in our DG member profile so that the public may use that website as an easy way to find our members’ work.
We encourage our members to look into the publishing alternatives to make their songs available for sale online, and for all Dramatists Guild members to update their member profiles with this information.
The Anti-Piracy committee has a number of public events planned to heighten awareness of this issue. We’ll be reaching out to educators, actors, college students and teenagers like the one Jason debated with, who by a simple quirk of their birth-year, were born into a world where it’s just as easy to steal our songs as it is to buy them. We hope to reverse this trend, and believe that we can.
In addition to your local bookstores and other sheet music vendors, here are some recommended ways to obtain legal sheet music online:
- Search the songwriter’s website;
- Search the publisher’s website;
- Download from a reputable sheet music vendor. Here is a suggested (partial) list: