Publishers Force Domain Seizure of Public Domain Music Resource

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IMSLP, the largest public domain music library on the Internet, has just suffered a damaging attack on the site's infrastructure. In a wrongful action over a single 90 year-old classical piece by Rachmaninoff, the UK's Music Publishers Association convinced registrar GoDaddy to seize IMSLP's domain name, which took the site completely offline.

While most readers will be very familiar with the commercialized mainstream pop sounds of the last 10 to 20 years, spare a moment’s thought for the deep history of our modern music. Without the great composers of the last few hundred years – Mozart, Beethoven, Bach to name just three – our soundscape today might be very different.

A group of people who are completely immersed in this history and absolutely determined to preserve it, are the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) who slavishly index public domain scores.

“Started more than five years ago in 2006, IMSLP has grown to include more than 90,000 scores from more than 5,000 composers,” administrator Edward told TorrentFreak.

Indeed, IMSLP’s coverage is extensive, spanning just about every composer one can think of. But one piece from their archives has just caused them a huge amount of inconvenience.

IMSLP’s listing of Rachmaninoff’s Bells, which was created in 1920 by a Russian and is public domain both in Canada and the USA, was spotted thousands of miles away by the UK’s Music Publishers Association (MPA).

Feeling they had some authority over the piece, MPA issued a DMCA takedown notice, not to the IMSLP site, but to their domain registrar, GoDaddy.

“We understand that Godaddy are the sponsoring registrar for the website http://www.IMSLP.ORG which makes available unlicensed copyright protected sheet music notation which is an infringement of copyright. By assisting this website, Godaddy are liable to pay damages for secondary copyright infringement once notice of the infringement has been given,” said the MPA’s Jake Kirner in the DMCA notice.

Without a second look at the issue, elephant gun wielding GoDaddy complied, seizing control of IMSLP’s domain name and taking them completely offline. Needless to say IMSLP were furious noting that the MPA’s assertion – that Rachmaninoff’s The Bells is protected under copyright in the US – “is nothing less than a bald-faced lie.”

IMSLP then when on to publish the MPA’s DMCA takedown notice in full on their website, which solicited demands from the MPA to have it removed. IMSLP refused.

“Seriously, you can’t expect to take down a major website, with a bogus DMCA takedown notice, and then try and hide the evidence. Can you see that? It makes you look ridiculous,” they wrote.

Then, just a few hours ago and following a threat by IMSLP that they could sue, MPA suddenly withdrew their complaint from GoDaddy.

Despite describing the original complaint as “underhanded” and “bogus”, IMSLP still managed to be gentlemen about the issue, and offered a “sincere thanks” to the MPA for their retraction.

“While IMSLP encourages open discussion of copyright issues, we have zero tolerance for underhanded tactics. To MPA’s credit, they have voluntarily retracted their claim. IMSLP will also be working on technical measures to prevent any future attacks,” they added.

This is not the first time IMSLP have had legal woes.

“IMSLP previously encountered major legal turbulence in 2007, when Universal Edition, an Austrian music publisher, successfully forced a shut down of the site,” administrator Edward told TorrentFreak. “However, IMSLP was able to recover after 9 months of reorganization.”


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