public domain music trouble

by Hugh

I was on a panel about copyright at the media and democracy conference, with Tina Piper and Owen Chapman. Someone asked about Public Domain music, and I said, yes there is a site, but I can’t remember what.

Well, via Geist, it appears the International Music Score Library Project, a volunteer, non-profit public domain music score project (canadian too), has been shut down, we hope temporarily because of nasty letters from a Toronto Law firm, engaged by an Austrian music publisher, Universal AG.

The substance of the claim is that while much of the music *is* public domain in Canada, it is not public domain in the EU, and because IMSLP.org is a web site that does not restrict where downloaders are coming from, then it is in violation of copyright law. Essentially this would mean that wherever in the world the longest copyright term exists, that term must be applied in all countries, regardless of the copyright laws in host country. Which, as Geist and Boing Boing point out, means that the concept of public domain online would ultimately disappear (as there could always be another country with a longer copyright term). Says Geist:

As for a European infringement, if UE is correct, then the public domain becomes an offline concept, since posting works online would immediately result in the longest single copyright term applying on a global basis. That can’t possibly be right. Canada has chosen a copyright term that complies with its international obligations and attempts to import longer terms – as is the case here – should not only be rejected but treated as copyright misuse.

LibriVox has had similar claims from copyright lawyers over the past couple of years, and we pushed back (with the help of Project Gutenberg), with our most compelling claim being:

Project Gutenberg has done exhaustive research over the years on this subject, and has not found any indication that the copyright laws of one country will have any force in any other country, even in cases of publishing materials on the Internet or the World Wide Web…

However, if you do come across any new case law or rulings that might effect some change, please let us know and we will discuss with our informal advisers at Project Gutenberg, so that they can update their research concerning such cases. As always, we will follow the legal standard that Project Gutenberg uses.

I’ve contacted IMSLP.org to offer moral and any other support I can, on behalf of LibriVox.

UPDATE1: Howard Knopf has significant commentary over at Excess Copyright.

UPDATE2:Heather Morrison comments on Geist’s blog with this little bit of brilliance:

If IP filters are the way to go, then it should be the country with the extended copyright laws that should take the responsibility for filtering out!

Then, when their citizens figure out that they have access to much less than everyone else in the world, they can take their own government to task and demand better laws!