Monday, October 22, 2007

International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) Shut Down

Also from the ORG list: the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) has been shut down due to legal threats by lawyers acting on behalf of Universal Edition. The student who has maintained the site says:

"Dear International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) Contributors, Users and Supporters:

I really tried.

What follows in this open letter is what I hope will be an accurate reflection of my tumultuous thoughts in the past few days.

On Saturday October 13, 2007, I received a second Cease and Desist letter from Universal Edition. At first I thought this letter would be similar in content to the first Cease and Desist letter I received in August. However, after lengthy discussions with very knowledgeable lawyers and supporters, I became painfully aware of the fact that I, a normal college student, has neither the energy nor the money necessary to deal with this issue in any other way than to agree with the cease and desist, and take down the entire site. I cannot apologize enough to all IMSLP contributors, who have done so much for IMSLP in the last two years.

I also understand very well that the cease and desist letter does not call for a take down of the entire site, but, as I said above, I very unfortunately simply do not have the energy or money necessary to implement the terms in the cease and desist in any other way. Prior to this cease and desist I was already overloaded with server maintenance and the implementation of new features (as some of you know). I do not intend this to be an excuse in any way, but I do hope that IMSLP users and contributors may understand, even if very slightly. At the same time, I again apologize profusely to all IMSLP contributors that it has come down to this.

Another major reason behind me taking the server down is the fact, which I have been made painfully aware of in the last few days, that I can no longer support IMSLP adequately. Rather than limping along and having to take down the site later on, I believe it is best to take the site down right now, so as to not waste the further efforts of IMSLP contributors.

I have to thank here the great efforts on the part of two outstanding university law teams with regard to this case, and the very helpful advice and assistance that I have received pro bono. I cannot imagine what I would be like right now without their legal and moral understanding and support...

So what happens now?

I will keep the IMSLP forums online for as long as there is interest. You may access it at

I will release the IMSLP Mediawiki extensions to the public in the hopes that other people will find them useful. I will also prepare a copy of the IMSLP Mediawiki database (i.e. the text on the site), with private information removed, and send it to anyone who requests. The IMSLP extensions are licensed under the GPL, and the IMSLP Mediawiki database is licensed under the GFDL. This letter itself is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

In addition, I will be willing to help and transfer the five IMSLP domain names to any organization who would like to continue IMSLP in some form or other; please contact me via if you are interested.

If you have any questions or comments for me regarding IMSLP or this situation, please send an e-mail to, and I will try to answer all of them. You may also use the forums if you believe that the question can be answered by other IMSLP contributors. Translations of this letter are very much welcome; you may post them on the forums, and I will move them to the main site. "

Slashdot has picked up the story. I'm sure there must be some a2k-inclined organisation which would be prepared to host the bulk of the public domain materials from the site. Let's hope so anyway.

Update: Michael Geist and Howard Knopf have a thing or two to say about the case. Here's Michael:

"The International Music Score Library Project was a quiet Canadian success story. Using wiki technologies, it emerged over the past two years as a leading source of public domain music scores, hosting thousands of scores uploaded by a community of students, teachers, and others in the music community. The site was very careful about copyright - only those works in the public domain (as many readers will know, public domain in Canada is life of the author plus an additional 50 years) were hosted on Canadian servers and the site was responsive to complaints about possible infringements.

On Friday, the site was taken down. Universal Edition AG, an Austrian publisher, retained a Toronto law firm to send a cease and desist letter to the Canadian-based site claiming that the site was infringing the copyright of various composers. It appears that the issue was not that posting the works in Canada infringed copyright but rather that some of the works were not yet in the public domain in Europe, where the copyright term runs for an additional 20 years at life of the author plus 70 years. As is so often the case, a labour of love for a large, non-profit community was wiped out with a single legal demand letter.

In this particular case, UE demanded that the site use IP addresses to filter out non-Canadian users, arguing that failing to do so infringes both European and Canadian copyright law. It is hard to see how this is true given that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that sites such as IMSLP are entitled to presume that they are being used in a lawful manner and therefore would not rise to the level of authorizing infringement. The site was operating lawfully in Canada and there is no positive obligation in the law to block out non-Canadians.

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.

Update: The lawyer for Universal Edition AG has contacted me to advise that some of the works on ISMLP allegedly infringed Canadian copyright as being within life of the author plus 50 years. It is not clear, however, whether UE actually provided the site owner with a list of those works (the posted letter certainly does not include any such list). "

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