IMSLP takedown: Here we go again

News reaches us that the International Music Score Library Project has once again been forced offline, this time thanks to an intervention from the Music Publishers Association of Great Britain.

The full story may be followed on the IMSLP forums here. In summary, the MPA objected to the posting of the score of Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, op.35. They issued a complaint to Go-Daddy, the company who register the IMSLP domain name who then, pre-emptively and apparently without consultation, froze the IMSLP URL.

Haven’t we been here before? Yes we have, when Universal Edition managed to shut IMSLP down for almost a year in 2007-8. Back then, extensive legal debates took place about the nature of the public domain across multiple jurisdictions and a resolution that appeared to suit everyone was reached. (Michael Geist’s commentary piece from the time of the first shutdown is worth revisiting.) Certainly a lot of legal clarity was brought to what is an important and complex issue.

Those lessons don’t seem to have been learnt by the MPA, however (they should know better – Universal’s UK branch is one of their members). It is depressing for us – and no doubt distressing for those directly in receipt of DMCA threats – that we have to return to this poisoned ground. There is a lengthy rebuttal of the MPA’s legal argument on the IMSLP forums here; lets hope matters are resolved swiftly. That post ends with the following lament:

Needless to say, we’ve already responded to Go-Daddy’s arbitrary action with a request to reconsider their response. We are also looking into the pursuit of legal action of our own against the Music Publishers Association of the UK for their malicious attempt to shut this site down. Sad to say, the Evil Empire Strikes Back – all too soon. Too bad that a gang of dying companies running on a failed business model can’t find anything more productive to do with their time (like maybe promoting the works of living composers, instead of playing lawyer over ones dead since 1943).

Read previous Rambler posts on the last round of the IMSLP copyright saga here.

Update 1: Story now up on BoingBoing, thanks to Danny.

Update 2: User faust on the IMSLP forums makes the important point that this is an action instigated by the MPA, not any publishers themselves: we shouldn’t assume they’re singing from the same hymnsheet here, nor should we tar them with the same brush. Point taken. However, it does make me wonder what UE, who have been round this block once already, think of what their professional association  is doing.

Update 3: Some words from the MPA themselves, via Twitter (@the_MPA):

MPA will seek to work with @IMSLP to ensure that all scores made available comply with relevant copyright legislation.

In the meantime MPA has contacted GoDaddy to request the @IMSLP domain be reinstated.

It remains to be seen what ‘relevant’ means in that first Tweet – that sounds like weasel language to me, and surely the issue of what are the relevant copyright statutes was covered in 2007-8 when UE first brought action. As IMSLP have already explained, under that definition the MPA can have no cause for complaint.

Update 4: imslp.org is back online! (See also my next post.)

Image adapted from photo by Powazny on Flickr.

12 thoughts on “IMSLP takedown: Here we go again

  1. Almost the same thing happened to me, or rather, to my new music ensemble Radius – Facebook threatened dire legal consequences and took down our page arbitrarily and without allowing us to offer a defence because a US rock band also called Radius had emailed them to claim we were infringing their “intellectual property” (they had trademarked the word “radius” in the USA!!). I never managed to get a proper response out of Facebook although I did get a response from the plaintiff in the US, who hinted quite strongly that he wanted money from me. Obviously, I told them to piss off and that’s the last I’ve heard of it.

    Anyway to get back on-topic, kinda – you could hardly expect fair play from this “Go Daddy”, after all their CEO is a
    well-known elephant slaughterer.

  2. However, one common mistake they make is that
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