Posted on June 29, 2010 at 11:01 am
I have known for a while that there are websites where you can essentially download sheet music for free, and I am certainly aware that a lot of the sheet music being downloaded in that manner was written by me. While my wife Georgia has written extensively about this problem, I have tended to sit back, certain that anything I do would just be the tiniest drop in a very large bucket. But about a month ago, I was seized by the idea to try an experiment.
I signed on to the website that is most offensive to me, got an account, and typed my name into the Search box. I got 4,000 hits. Four thousand copies of my music were being offered for “trade.” (I put “trade” in quotes because of course it’s not really a trade, since nobody’s giving anything up in exchange for what they get. It’s just making illegal unauthorized copies, and calling it “trade” legitimizes it in an utterly fraudulent way.) I clicked on the most recent addition, and I sent the user who was offering that music an email. This is what I wrote:
Hey there! Can I get you to stop trading my stuff? It’s totally not cool with me. Write me if you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you about this. firstname.lastname@example.org
Nothing too formal or threatening, just a casual sort of suggestion.
But I wasn’t content to do it with just one user. I started systematically going through the pages, and eventually I wrote to about four hundred users.
The broad majority of people I wrote to actually wrote back fairly quickly, apologized sincerely, and then marked their music “Not for trade.” I figured that was a pretty good result, but I did find it odd – why list the material at all if you’re not going to trade it?
Several other people wrote back, confused about who I was or why I was singling them out, and I would generally write them back, explain the situation, and they too generally would mark their materials “not for trade” or remove them entirely.
But then there were some people who fought back. And I’m now going to reproduce, entirely unexpurgated, the exchange I had with one of them.
Her email comes in to my computer as “Brenna,” though as you’ll see, she hates being called Brenna; her name is Eleanor. I don’t know anything about her other than that, and the fact that she had an account on this website and was using it to trade my music. And I know she is a teenager somewhere in the United States, but I figured that out from context, not from anything she wrote.
On Jun 9, 2010, at 2:38 PM, Brenna wrote:
Sorry. I’m not understanding what you want. I don’t think I’ve ever traded with you before so I don’t think I have any of your stuff to trade. If I have and am, however, and if u have a problem with it, I’ll of course stop. But please explain to me what I have and how I’m doing something wrong. Thanks! Sorry.
On Jun 9, 2010, at 5:52 PM, Jason Robert Brown wrote:
I’m actually me, Jason Robert Brown, and you’re offering several of my songs and scores for “trade” on this website. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that, since it affects my livelihood considerably when people can get free copies of my work from strangers and I don’t get anything in return. I’m glad you like my songs and I hope you’ll keep playing and singing them, but please don’t “trade” them on the Internet, especially with people you don’t know.
On Jun 9, 2010, at 4:36 PM, Brenna wrote:
Let me get this straight. You expect me to believe that you are Jason Robert Brown. THE Jason Robert Brown. And that you have taken the time to go onto random websites and create an account just to message people not to trade your sheet music? I don’t mean to be rude, but can you see how I have a bit of trouble believing that?
On Jun 9, 2010, at 7:41 PM, Jason Robert Brown wrote:
Well, I am me – what would anyone else’s motivation be for doing this? You’re getting an email from my actual email address, I don’t know what else would convince you, but I can assure you that I really would like you to stop trading my songs online. Thanks,
On Jun 9, 2010, at 7:43 PM, Brenna wrote:
Quite frankly, there could be a lot of people with motives for doing this. A creeper who thinks he could eventually “prove” that he is who you’re claiming to be by getting me to meet with him. Some kid who thinks it’s funny to pretend to be a genius composer and get an aspiring actress excited. It’s not hard to create an email address with that name in it. I’m just not lucky enough to have someone as famous as Jason Robert Brown email me. It’s not something I could easily believe.
On Jun 10, 2010, at 12:03 am, Jason Robert Brown wrote:
Suit yourself, Brenna, but if you can take down my stuff, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.
On Jun 9, 2010, at 9:20 PM, Brenna wrote:
I’ve taken down your music, but if you’re really Jason Robert Brown, I’d like to ask you a question. Why are you doing this? I just searched you on this site and all of the stuff that people have of yours up there say that it’s “Not for Trade Per Composer’s Request.” Did you think about the aspiring actors and actresses who really need some good sheet music? If you’re really who you claim to be, then I assume you know that Parade, Last Five Years, 13 The Musical, etc. are all genius pieces of work and that a lot of people who would love to have that sheet music can’t afford it. Thus the term “starving artist.” 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 so much to you that they don’t?
On Jun 10, 2010, at 12:28 am, Jason Robert Brown wrote:
I’ll answer your question, but I’d like your permission to post the exchange on my website. Deal?
On Jun 10, 2010, at 12:31 am, Brenna wrote:
absolutely! that would actually be kind of cool. but if you wouldn’t mind changing my name in it to “Eleanor.” I’m not sure why my iPod put it as “Brenna” but that’s not what I go by and I don’t like that name.
All right, now a couple of weeks went by because it takes me a while to get around to writing these blogs and I have a lot of other stuff going on. Then I got an email from Eleanor yesterday.
On Jun 28, 2010, at 4:39 PM, Brenna wrote:
Alright, “Mr. Brown” I have a problem and that problem is your fault. I need the sheet music to “I’d Give It All For You” but thanks to your little stunt, I can’t get it. And I cannot just go to the store and buy it. My parents don’t support my theatre all that much and they won’t buy it for me. And I need it pronto. If you’re actually Jason Robert Brown, what can you do to help me with my situation?
On Jun 28, 2010, at 7:43 pm, Jason Robert Brown wrote:
Well, that’s a stupid question, Brenna. If you “needed” to go see Wicked tonight, you’d need to pay the $140 to do it or you just wouldn’t be able to go. And if you couldn’t go, you’d have to go do something else. Likewise, you should pay for things that other people create, or you should content yourself with the free and legal options available to you.
The sheet music costs $3.99, you can download it in one minute, and you’re doing the legal and correct thing. That’s what I can do to help you:
On Jun 28, 2010, at 5:17 PM, Brenna wrote:
You know, you never actually answered my original question. Why are you doing this?
In order to download something online legally, a credit card is required and I do not have one of those. As I just said, my parents don’t support my theatre and wouldn’t give me said necessary credit card. Therefore, I cannot buy it. And it is nothing like going to see a show. And you know it. If you are who you say you are, then you’re more intelligent than that. You’re a genius and your stuff is amazing to perform, but apparently, you’re a jerk. We in theatre should support one another and that’s not what you’re doing.
On Jun 28, 2010, at 8:23 pm, Jason Robert Brown wrote:
How are you supporting me by stealing my song off the Internet? Why are you entitled to get the sheet music for free?
On Jun 28, 2010, at 5:35 PM, Brenna wrote:
Let’s say Person A has never heard of “The Great Jason Robert Brown.” Let’s name Person A “Bill.” Let’s say I find the sheet music to “Stars and the Moon” online and, since I was able to find that music, I was able to perform that song for a talent show. I slate saying “Hi, I’m Eleanor and I will be performing ‘Stars and the Moon’ from Songs for a New World by Jason Robert Brown.” Bill, having never heard of this composer, doesn’t know the song or the show. He listens and decides that he really likes the song. Bill goes home that night and downloads the entire Songs for a New World album off iTunes. He also tells his friend Sally about it and they decide to go and see the show together the next time it comes around. Now, if I hadn’t been able to get the sheet music for free, I would have probably done a different song. But, since I was able to get it, how much more money was made? This isn’t just a fluke thing. It happens. I’ve heard songs at talent shows or in theatre final exams and decided to see the show because of the one song. And who knows how they got the music? It may have been the same for them and if they hadn’t been able to get it free, they would have done something else.
I answered your question. Do you have any intention of ever answering mine? Don’t think I didn’t notice that you avoided answering.
On Jun 28, 2010, at 8:42 pm, Jason Robert Brown wrote:
What question of yours did I avoid answering? If the question is “Why am I doing this?”, I should think the answer is obvious: I think it’s annoying and obnoxious that people think they’re entitled to get the sheet music to my songs for free, and I’d like to make those people (you, for example) conscious of the immorality, illegality, and unfairness of their behavior.
And your answer is sophistry, Brenna. That same scenario could take place exactly the same way if you paid for the music. And that’s how that scenario is SUPPOSED to take place. You assume that because a good thing comes from an illegal act, it’s therefore mitigated. That’s nonsense. I’m glad people want to sing my songs, and I’m glad that when other people hear them, they enjoy them – that doesn’t mean I surrender my right to get paid for providing the sheet music.
On Jun 28, 2010, at 6:05 PM, Brenna wrote:
First of all, stop calling me “Brenna.” I don’t think I could possibly have made it clearer that I don’t go by that name nor do I like that name. I go by “Eleanor.”
Second, I’m not saying that you’re not somewhat right in the way you’re thinking, but you’re also defiantly wrong. Would it be wrong for me to make a copy of some sheet music and give it to a close friend of mine for an audition? Of course not. In fact, it would be considered nasty of me to refuse. But to trade sheet music online is bad? This website is not even technically illegal. Since the music is never actually uploaded onto the site and is sent via email from one user to another, I’m breaking no law by participating in it. You think I don’t look this stuff up? I’m careful about what I do online, as you can clearly see from the fact that I’m still iffy on your identity. I know what can happen online. I’m not going to use a website that I think could get me in trouble, just like I’m not going to assume that someone I meet online is who they claim to be.
And third, you think the same scenario could have taken place exactly the same way? Funny. Most of the teenagers I have met who are into theatre would do the free song before they would do the one for $3.99 unless they had a really good reason. It could theoretically take place the same way. The question is would it? And the answer is probably not. I never said that it was an amazing thing happening and I never said that it doesn’t start with what I’m sure seems to you as a bad thing. I “assume that because a good thing comes from an illegal act, it’s therefore mitigated”? Well, I have just explained that it is not illegal, so we will leave that alone. Yes. I assume that because something that good comes from something so insignificantly negative, it’s therefore mitigated.
And so today, I wrote this final chapter:
I’m going to give you three examples to explain why what you’re doing is wrong, and then I’m going to stop this exchange, because arguing with teenagers is a zero-sum game, as I’ve learned from my experience on both ends of the argument. You insist on your right to think you know everything and do whatever you want, and anyone who corrects you or tries to educate you otherwise is the enemy; I don’t wish to be the enemy, I’m just a guy trying to make a living.
Friend of mine is building a house. He drew up the plans, he chopped down all the trees, he’s got it all together. He doesn’t have a screwdriver. He calls me up, says, “Dude, I need a screwdriver.” I happen to have a screwdriver, so I give it to him, but I say, “Hey, I need that back later today, I have some work to do.” He looks incredulous. “I have to build a house, my man. I’m not going to be done in a day. And what if someone likes my house and wants me to build one for them? I’ll need the screwdriver to build their house too, yo.” So I suggest he get his own screwdriver. “Why can’t I just use yours?” he says. I tell him he can use mine, but then I need it back, it’s my screwdriver, after all. He insists that he has the right to take my screwdriver, build his house, then keep that screwdriver forever so he can build other people’s houses with it. This seems unfair to me.
The screwdriver he wants is a tool that he is using to further his own aims. I went out, I bought a screwdriver, now I should just give it away to someone? Now let’s say I wrote a song – it took a lot for me to write it, and it has been my full-time job for over twenty years to make sure that the songs I write go out into the world to be heard and sung. The way I support myself and my family is through the sale of those songs, on CD’s, in sheet music, in tickets. Sheet music represents almost half of my yearly income. You seem to be saying that you should be able to take that song, that screwdriver, just take it for free, and go build your career and your happiness without ever compensating me.
I collect first edition copies of the works of Thornton Wilder. I’ve been doing so for a long time, he’s my favorite author in the world. Friend of mine comes over to the house, sees my collection, and says, “Wow, I’ve never read any of this stuff. This one looks cool.” He takes down “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” “Can I read this?” Sure, I say. It would be rude of me not to let him borrow my book to read, after all. You might even say it would be “nasty.” Two months go by; there’s a big hole on my bookshelf where “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” is supposed to go. I call my friend, ask him for my book back. He comes over and says, “I love this book, yo. Make me a copy!” I look at him strangely. Why would I do that? He can just go to the bookstore and get a copy of his own. “No, dude, I love THIS book, you should just make me a copy of it.” But the publishing company won’t be able to survive if people just make copies of the book, I say, and the Thornton Wilder estate certainly deserves its share of the income it earns when people buy the book. He says I’m a jerk because I won’t make him a copy of this genius book that I shared with him. I tell him he’s a prick and he should get out of my house, and that’s the last time I see him for years.
Now, Eleanor, here you might say that that’s stupid, it’s HARD to make a photocopy of a whole BOOK, but one SONG you can just print out from your computer. And I say to you that just because technology makes doing a bad thing easier doesn’t mean it’s suddenly not a bad thing. There may soon be technology whereby I can go to my local library and instantly scan and download every single book and put it on my computer for free; then I’ll never have to go to the library again, and I’ll have all this awesome stuff on my hard drive and it’ll be MINE, because I stole it all by myself. The logical endpoint of that argument is fairly obvious to me, and I hope to you: If no one buys any of the books, then the publishing companies will stop printing them, and then the authors will have no way to make their livings as authors. Because I am an author, I tend to believe that I should be able to get paid for doing that work (and it is work, Eleanor, it’s really hard work). The way I get paid is that people buy the work that I do, and I get a percentage of that money – other percentages go to the publishers, the bookstores, the theaters, the actors, the typesetters, the copyists, the musicians, the designers, the operators, even the libraries since the government takes a piece and that’s how it funds everything you rely on in your everyday life. You think you’re entitled to deny all of those people their rightful share of the work they do. I don’t understand why you think that.
I bought a fantastic new CD by my friend Michael Lowenstern. I then ripped that CD on to my hard drive so I can listen to it on my iPod in my car. Well, that’s not FAIR, right? I should have to buy two copies?
No. There is in fact a part of the copyright law that allows exactly this; it’s called the doctrine of fair use. If you’ve purchased or otherwise legally obtained a piece of copyrighted material and you want to make a copy of it for your own use, that’s perfectly legal and allowed. Your friend Wikipedia has some useful thoughts about “fair use” and “fair dealing”, in case you want to read further. Here’s the beginning of the relevant section:
Copyright does not prohibit all copying or replication. In the United States, the fair use doctrine, codified by the Copyright Act of 1976 as 17 U.S.C. § 107, permits some copying and distribution without permission of the copyright holder or payment to same. The statute does not clearly define fair use, but instead gives four non-exclusive factors to consider in a fair use analysis. Those factors are:
the purpose and character of the use;
the nature of the copyrighted work;
the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
You can find the rest at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright. There’s also very useful discussion of all this stuff at the University of Texas library site (Texas! Of all places!), which you can read here.
Now you’re frustrated because even if you wanted to do the right thing, the ethical and legal thing, you still need a credit card to buy the sheet music and that isn’t going to happen. Listen, Eleanor, I’m frustrated on your behalf. It really sucks to be a teenager. I’m not being sarcastic or ironic, I really get it. I wrote a whole show about it. But being able to steal something doesn’t mean you should. If your parents really won’t pony up the four bucks to buy a copy of the sheet music, then you can ask them to take you to the library and you can take out all the music you want, free, and pick the song you want to use for an audition or a talent show, and you can keep borrowing the book from the library until you’re done with it or until the library demands it back. My song may not be in your library – you could ask them to get it from another library, through an interlibrary loan (this is common, standard library practice), but if you’re in a time crunch, that’s not practical – so you may have to just pick another song. It may not be the perfect song, but if you’re a talented girl, it won’t matter all that much. As long as it shows off what you can do and who you are, it will suffice because you are a teenager and the people who you are auditioning for will cut you slack on that account.
That’s the end of my jeremiad, and I’d be surprised if it persuaded you in any real way, but it is the truth and it is your responsibility as a citizen, as a member of the theatrical community, and as a considerate human being to pay attention to the laws, ethics and customs that make it possible for you to do the thing you love. I’m very much impressed by how passionately you’ve stood your ground, and how articulate you’ve been in doing so, and I can’t tell you how excited I am that you didn’t misspell anything, not once in this entire exchange. (Well, you wrote “you’re” when you meant “your” once, but I’ll let it go.) But being able to argue a point doesn’t make it right – lots of lawyers lose cases all the time.
I’m sorry if you still think I’m a jerk, but what I’m talking about here is not “insignificant.” The entire record business is in free-fall because people no longer feel the moral responsibility to buy music; they just download it for free from the Internet, from YouTube, from their friends. When I make a cast album or a CD of my own, I do it knowing that it will never earn its money back, that I’m essentially throwing that money away so that I can put those songs out in the world. That shouldn’t be the case, and I suspect in your heart you believe that too. All of us who write music for the theater are very much concerned that the sheet music business will eventually go the same way as the record business. I’m doing my little part to keep that from happening.
If you want me to talk to your parents and ask them to buy you the sheet music, just have them write me an email. You know how to find me.
I look forward to any thoughts you all might have, and a lively discussion. And thank you, Eleanor, for letting me put our argument on this site.
UPDATE: Below, you will find 159 comments on this article. They range in tone from the supportive to the hostile to the obnoxious; I’ve read them all and responded to a majority of them, as you can see. I have printed every single comment that came in to this site with the exception of four or five that seemed to me to be unnecessarily personal attacks on Eleanor, and a couple that were just silly pranks. I think there’s a wide range of thought and discussion covered here, and while I’m very grateful for the breadth of topics and ideas broached herein, I’ve got to shut the comments down at this point so I can get back to work. Thank you all for participating.
FURTHER, AND HOPEFULLY FINAL, UPDATE: For those of you who were concerned, I did eventually hear from Eleanor. She said she didn’t feel annoyed or offended that I had posted her remarks, she did understand where I was “coming from,” and she appreciated that I took the time to deal with her. I also heard from her mother. And her brother. I have also heard from a continuing stream of extraordinarily hostile young men (always men) who insist on “educating” me on the ins and outs of cybermorality, the definition of “stealing,” and why I deserve to choke on my own obsolescence. And I have heard from many very wonderfully kind and supportive people who pledged to do what they could, even if only in their own houses, to stop the rampant illegal and unpaid use of intellectual property, sheet music being only one example. It’s been a fun ride, if a little exhausting, but you can all stop now. Have a good 4th of July weekend.
ALL RIGHT, ONE LAST THING: One of the more exhausting parts of this debate has been that I’m armed with only logic against a whole culture of very well-articulated defenses of piracy. Finally, one of the techies came to my aid with a beautifully clear response to my blog, which then (as you can see from the comments on his page) brought the crazies to HIM, and he dealt with them far better than I could. Thanks, George!
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Thanks for going out of your way to have a few of these conversations, despite their apparent futility. It *has* to matter. Said correspondent lost me at “defiantly” for “definitely”. As an English teacher it makes my blood boil. Almost as much as plagiarism and copyright infringement. And thanks for plugging the inter library loan system!
Oh Eleanor. I honestly can’t believe this. Jason, this just deepens my love for your work and my pledge to never illegally take other’s work.
Oh, and she also spelled “definitely” wrong once. Pet peeve.
Totally agree. it’s great to see you’re cracking down on this, with the odd amusing argument along the way.
Had Eleanor actually ever bought a sheet music book she would have noticed the notice prohibiting copying. Most shops (here I refer to Dress Circle in London as the one I go to usually) even have policies in place which prohibit sheet music being returned as people apparently cannot be trusted not to just make a copy and then return the book.
I do wonder, Mr Brown, where you stand on the “trade” of live recordings?
I fully admit to being given/accepting recordings both video and audio (though have never once recorded anything myself) I love being able to listen to the exact performance I happened to see, or the ability to watch/listen to shows that have long been closed that I wish I’d seen. I know the same cannot be said for the majority of these “traders” but for me and illegal recording will never replace going to see the show at the theatre and I wouldn’t ever choose recordings over going to see a show if it’s still open.
As for cast recordings and other theatre related albums, I can’t stand how people feel it’s ok to just “share” – the albums struggle to generate the sales they deserve as it is and it’s so frustrating to know that those artists won’t know how many people like the albums based on sales because so much is going on “underground.”
In this sense, though neither way is right, I would rather someone illegally downloaded an album by say Lady Gaga for example if it meant that that money would be spent on a cast recording or sheet music that they would have downloaded. Theatre work needs our support more than crazily popular top ten artists do and without it they will not have the means to continue with the work we love.
[FROM JRB: Hey Emily. I have to walk you back from the Lady Gaga argument here – I don’t think we get to pick and choose when we follow the law and when we don’t. I know that sounds simplistic, and I know lots of people subscribe to your version of the argument, but I don’t know how you choose where or when the line gets drawn. Surely by that standard my work is therefore much more acceptable to bootleg than Brian Lowdermilk’s, because I’m famous and established and somewhat old and he’s just a kid. I don’t think that’s a valid determination.
But to your point of live performance bootlegs, I’m on the fence about it because it certainly is nice that people who can’t come to some of my concerts get to see what I do. The real issue is about quality and control; I don’t get asked for my approval to put those things out in the world, the quality of the recording (both audio and video) varies from okay to shocking, and as a creator, I’d like to think that I had the right to determine what is the best way for my work to be put into the world.]
Excellent arguments, Jason — this whole blog post breaks the issues down quite nicely. Somehow I doubt you convinced Eleanor and stemmed the tide of illegal downloads, but every little bit helps.
Book publishing hasn’t completely collapsed yet, but the move toward electronic versions is worrisome, and I’ve been seeing more and more Google hits for “free J. E. Bright books” out there. I try to do my part and pay for all my music downloads. Even more alarming for myself, unlike musicians, book authors don’t really have performances or tours to offset the financial losses.
You probably loved Thornton Wilder even before our high school production of The Skin of Our Teeth, but my love for his work started there. I have some very funny mental images of you in that show embedded permanently in my memory.
Total fair point. I agree that sheet music should not be ‘shared’ in any way unless it has been paid for but just like almost every other media that can be digitally reproduced and put on the internet – distribution is almost impossible to prevent.
However, it would be a shame to see that website disappear as its a great resource for out of print and therefore unobtainable music which (presumably) falls under a different branch of copyright when it is permanently removed from the market?
[FROM JRB: Actually, it doesn’t – copyright is copyright. The fair use doctrine does provide some helpful guidelines on the point of out-of-print material.]
I’m opening myself up to criticism here and probably cries of hypocrisy from every student or singer for whom I’ve copied a song. In my defense, I try to make sure before I do that the song is now out of print. (It’s a rationalization, I know.) But I love this entry and want to print it and share it with all these kids who think that because the internet exists, and because they don’t have enough money to buy everything their hearts desire, they’re somehow entitled to everything for free.
“Trading” sites started (as I’m sure you know) because people had a copy of some unpublished work (usually) which held some sort of value to them, even if it was only the time, expense and trouble of copying it and scanning it in. Then, some time in the spring of ’07, the prevailing winds shifted and this whole concept of “sharing” was born. Suddenly, anyone who wouldn’t simply upload freely available copies of everything in their collection were chastised as bad, horrible people.
Nowadays, if there’s something unpublished I’d like to perform or work on, I just ask the composer. The internet has made it far easier to find authors, and every one I’ve contacted has been lovely, even if the answer is “I’d rather not have the music for that song out there, but thanks for asking.” But usually the author can point me to a site, or sell a copy individually via pay-pal, or sometimes they’ve been gracious enough to send a copy gratis. And in all cases, I have made it a point, when asked for a copy, to say “I got this by asking the author. Here’s his/her contact info – knock yourself out.”
My question is this: Sometimes the sheet music just isn’t available for whatever reason, but you have a recording (either a CD or, more recently, on YouTube.) There are lots of people now who will transcribe sheet music from a recording. Heck, even when I was a kid there were people (okay, me) who would just learn a song by ear and play it for friends. I’ll be honest – the first time I performed “Stars and the Moon” it was with a friend who heard it on Audra’s first CD. I just listened over and over and “learned” it by ear from that recording. Where on the spectrum does this example fall? 😀
[FROM JRB: Hi Chris! Transcribing is a weird sidebar here. I think transcribing a song for yourself is certainly just fine, and hiring someone or being hired to transcribe an otherwise unavailable song seems like a necessary evil (and not a bad way to pay the rent, speaking from experience). The trick comes in what happens to that transcription afterwards. I think you’d feel as uncomfortable as I do if that transcription were then made available for sale or just freely distributed – you did the work of transcribing it, shouldn’t you at least share in that? And of course, once you get a “royalty,” you can’t deny that the composer ought to get one as well. So there’s a slippery slope involved. At any rate, this essay is certainly not about transcriptions, as you know. I think that’s a very tiny piece of a very large and complex pie.]
“I cannot just go to the store and buy it.” I wonder if Eleanor steals other things she “needs” from Starbucks? Ralphs? Macys? Lattes, Haagen-Dasz and lip gloss all cost money, generally more than $3.99. I wonder what her cellphone bill is per month?
Having had these types of exchanges with members of congress with regard to performance rights for 25+ years, I can say that Eleanor is brighter and more enlightened than most of them.
Two comments stand out. This, from Strom Thurmond:”Why don’t you just renegotiate your employment contract?” And this, from a Napster defender: “Sure, I stole your song, but I wasn’t going to buy it anyway, so you’re out nothing.”
The astonishing thing about this exchange is that you had to teach Eleanor the entire theory of copyright, royalties, fair dealing etc., from scratch.
That means, as Georgia Stitt’s blog post pointed out, that most traders don’t know they’re doing anything wrong, and the rest of us (parents, teachers, writers) haven’t succeeded in explaining it.
The system is about to become easier for copyright infringers. Soon, you’ll take your USB drive to the audition, and plug it into the digital music stand. We need a new system, easy and fast enough for Eleanor, but still fair to composers and lyricists.
(By the way, I think “defiantly” was meant to be “definitely”. That’s what spell check does to “definatly”.)
Wow. Good for you. You & your wife are two fantastic people.
Thank you for posting this exchange. It goes to show the crazy lengths people will go to to justify their immorality.
One question, though: How about music that is not available for purchase, like out of print stuff or from new composers who don’t sell music online and don’t have books for purchase? Do you think that those songs should just not be played/enjoyed or do you think that it is okay to share and trade that type of commercially unavailable music?
Thanks for reading this, but please don’t spend too long debating this issue. You need to save your energy for creating beautiful music!
[FROM JRB: I’m going to acknowledge out-of-print material as a little bit of a gray area, but the caveat here is that “out-of-print” is not the same as unpublished. Several of my songs are unpublished; that’s deliberate on my part, because I’m not ready or don’t want to have those songs out in the world – that’s my prerogative as their creator, I think. If I wanted those songs published in this day and age, that’s really easy enough to do, so I should be granted my option to keep them out of circulation if I like.
The reason out-of-print is a gray area for me is that the decision to put something in or out of print has not always rested with the creators, and those creators may be just as frustrated that a work of theirs is unavailable as the potential consumers. There are scripts and cast albums that can’t be found or heard by any legal means any more, and the rights to release them may be so thorny and ridiculous that it would be impossible to clear. So it may the case that there’s a moral and ethical clear path towards distributing unauthorized copies of that material. Certainly when I was younger, I did my share of that – we could never have heard “Ballroom” or “Promenade” without resorting to some shady back channel (which was usually some old queen with two tape decks). But it would be a mistake to offer some kind of blanket amnesty to bootleggers just because they’re only offering works that can’t be gotten by other means. I think the standard has to be pretty high.]
Mr. Brown, you rock. Thank you for standing up against illegal music!
[FROM JRB: Just to be clear, it’s not the music that’s illegal! It’s the copying and distribution of it that’s against the law.]
You’re a rock star. Awesome points, and well said!
Eleanor seems smart and sassy… I think you guys should meet during some kind of a reality show and talk it out.
You are a genius in more ways than one.
And I’m the proud owner of 4 of your songbooks.
Thanks for posting.
Between you and Georgia, you might just be making the world safe for artists and content producers again. Many thanks to you both. This was priceless, if sad. Not pointless, however. Many others WILL read and understand your points, even if Eleanor did not!
Great work getting to the heart of the issue, both of you. Ethically, nobody should ever deprive a street performer or a respected composer of due compensation for their labor, but I think JRB is discounting Eleanor’s argument as self-interested due to his failure to recognize the technological perspective.
I’ll start with a fun fact: While there are federal guidelines for this kind of thing, many states still use a rather parochial system for setting speed limits. They put down the road (without speed limits posted) and see how fast people drive for a few days under normal conditions. Then they average the speed, and if it falls within the general scope of federal guidelines, they round that number to the the nearest “0 or 5” and post it. They use this system because, generally, people don’t say “I don’t know what speed limit this is, I’ll do whatever possible in the absence of an authority figure telling me I”ll get in trouble.” The average driver stays safe, within the reasons of their good judgment.
On the other hand, we all have sped by accident or on purpose at some point. Certainly if a loved one was about to give birth, would you or anyone exceed the speed guidelines? Surely, but not without taking reasonable regard to the safety of pedestrians (doing 35 MPH on a residential road, not 55 MPH).
Consumers behave in the same way: they know what they want to gain through labor, trade or currency, and they’ll generally stay within acceptable legal and moral guidelines to do so, unless they can’t get what they want through those means.
Eleanor is the typical consumer case, although she betrays her age by hiding a very practical and sensible argument in terms too moralistic for its purpose. She wanted access to your music online (because her parents were not supportive of theater and she had no credit card to make her own purchase), and saw no other way to do so other than through an online “sheet music barter” system.
Eleanor is much like early adopters of Napster. They saw the efficiency of having massive music library stored on their computer, but found that ripping large CD files to achieve that end was (with the technology at the time) bulky and impractical without a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network of easily downloaded, shared music. This sent the music industry up in arms: “how dare anyone steal our product on a massive scale!” Those participating were (and still are) treated legally as ingenious bootleggers rather than common criminals, and were sued as if they could have made a profit off of the music industry’s losses. Of course, those losses were the result of a failure to adapt to this new paradigm in consumer demand. iTunes changed this by proving that consumers will open their wallets to an easy-purchase, MP3 Player integrated system.
Eleanor here is a target demographic. She may be a demographic of one (I suspect she is not). Regardless, Eleanor had a need, and you had an audience who desired your product but found themselves unable to access it. We can sling figures at each other about how much artists lose or how much they gain in profits due to online proliferation of sheet music (or the digitization of music in general), but that is peripheral to the fact that it seems like Eleanor would not have purchased your product anyway. If you are not prepared to develop a way to get sheet music in a relatively affordable way to high schoolers without credit cards, I would suggest that Eleanor (or as it may be, an individual like her) is just following her own internal moral speedometer, and has determined that there exists no other way to get their hands on your product in a way that perhaps breaks the rules, but does no harm because there are no alternatives.
It seems like you may have an underserved market in these high schoolers, JRB! I’d complain to your publisher for not promoting your works in the most efficient way, and take some of the blame off of poor Eleanor!
[FROM JRB: Thanks for jumping in, Darius, and for such a well-articulated point. It’s not that I disagree with you entirely, but I have to draw the line at saying that any group of people who want to buy something must be accommodated. Just because a group of teenagers thinks they should get my sheet music doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right – the reason banks don’t give credit cards to teenagers is because they’re not the most reliable or responsible consumers; they shouldn’t have unlimited access to capital – if you’ve ever been around any teens at a mall, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If they need it, they’re supposed to either earn the money to buy it or get that money from their parents or guardians or mentors or whomever. It’s not Hal Leonard’s fault that Eleanor can’t afford four dollars; if she wanted to go see “Wicked” (as I point out above), she’d find a way to pay for that. Teenagers have gatekeepers – they hate it, but it’s true, and my children will have very strong gatekeepers when they are that age, I assure you – and it is the responsibility of those gatekeepers to make sure that those teenagers engage in the right kinds of behavior.]
Good for you, Jason, for trying to engage this young woman in a discussion. Just because your parents won’t buy you something is never, ever a reason to steal.
It seems to me she has several options: try to get the music from a library, ask a trusted adult to speak to her parents, offer to do chores around the house or check around the neighborhood to earn the money for the music. Or, use music that’s available without stealing.
Wow. I don’t think I have ever read an entire blog without blinking. That was great to put out there. I am a singer, but I also write music. Your points are dead on. The last tour I was on, we debated this subject on the bus for hours. Is there a way to beat the system? Document tracing maybe? Class-action law suits- Composers vs. everybody? Or a strike–the TV writers did it recently, why not composers? Anyway, you’ve inspired me. . . I’m glad someone is out there making good points and sparking the debate. I’ll support you in any way possible. Take Care, Brian
There are money cards available through WalMart. It cost $3 to put any amount $20 or higher on the card and can be used as a credit card online. There are always ways to figure things out without stealing! She is choosing the easy way out.
This is an amazing exchange. I really hope your actions get around and inspire other artists to stand up for themselves. It would be great to see a lot more big names musicians, composers and writers poking their heads into the other file sharing communities.
What I admire most about this is that you did not threaten her with legal action. You put things into perspective for her. If I were standing in her shoes right now, my face would be as red as the background on your page.
Good for you J.
All the best,
This blog entry made my day. When I was younger (though I’m still pretty young), I thought the same thoughts that dear Eleanor argued. There was a moment that I recall, however, that altered my perception of this topic. The moment I completed the first song in my musical. I felt wholeheartedly convicted and after writing and producing my original musical a year later.
I already aspire to be half the composer you are, Mr. Brown. After this, you’ve won three million more points in my book.
I did not like the way you talked with this girl. Beyond the rational arguments there is a style and you lose it at many points in your conversation with Eleanor. I admire your music but after reading your quite arrogant comments I think I like it less. Sentences like “I am actually me.” “That’s a stupid question” “I’m going to stop this exchange, because arguing with teenagers is a zero-sum game” were not necessary at all. I am a bit disappointed. And I think you underestimate a bit the power of what you call “stealing”. I am not from U.S. and where I live you are essentially known via the “stealing” way. Would you prefer not to be known at all in such place? I do not think so. You should tell in this context if you have real money problems (like many people have) or if you just think that you are not rich enough. This would be an important remark.
[FROM JRB: Sorry, Art, I totally disagree. My net worth is not the point. If I want people to get my work for free, then I can give my work away; and if I want to charge for my work, then that’s my right as well. I’m not starving in the street, but certainly I need money, and more importantly, I’m entitled to it.
Your other question, about whether I’d prefer that no one know who I am rather than have my work distributed for free, is a straw man. I’m not successful or famous because people hear my work for free; I am successful or famous because I’m good at what I do. A society that doesn’t want to reward the workers who do their jobs well is full of shitty people. Does that answer your question?]
LOVED THIS! You were patient, sympathetic, and then got right to the point. People amaze me sometimes (and NOT in a good way)…and thanks for giving it to ART, too…stay hip, my friend!
I salute you sir. *salutes*
First, just to get it out of the way, I do think copying commercially available material is unethical. I have long refused to download anything that is available commercially (although I did learn to love musicals from a bootleg cassette of Les Misérables a friend gave me in 9th grade). I do have a couple of quibbles, though.
The digital world messes with our notion of materiality. JRB’s analogy about the screwdriver is an example of a common fallacy. If I take your screwdriver, you can’t use it. If Eleanor uses her computer to automatically transcribe all of the data about an image of a piece of sheet music, both Eleanor and her provider can continue to use the information in whatever way they like. The original provider just repeated something JRB originally expressed (presumably citing her source), and Eleanor copied it down. Copyright, then, is more about payment for service than an exchange of goods. Artists like JRB spend hours and hours perfecting their works of art, and for at least 150 years or so our society has decided artists should be compensated for their work. While we like free expression, we’ve decided that for some types of expression, the one who came up with the idea should be the only one allowed to profit. In fact, this was more or less what copyright meant originally–the creator has the sole right to sell their work, but anyone can speak it freely. Course, back then you couldn’t make too many copies if you didn’t have a source of income, and so this effectively meant only the creator would provide access to material, but I do worry that restricting what can be written or said can lead dangerously to censorship (a government, could, for instance, decide to publish and copyright many forms dissent and then sue those who objected).
Still, artists do need to be paid, so I think the best solution is to make it easier for people to pay them for their art. Our earliest copies of Shakespeare (the Quartos) are probably pirated editions, but hardly anyone performs these versions anymore. Instead, the text we know comes largely from the Folio (an official-ish version produced by Shakespeare’s friends after his death). People will use authorized channels if they are available. There are many explanations for why the recording industry is dying, but I believe one of the biggest stems from their slowness to adapt to the model Napster demonstrated. It took years between the technical possibility and the reality of iTunes because the recording industry desperately wanted to cling to their old models, and so piracy, the only real option for accessing large music collections, became the norm. But now, despite piracy, iTunes, eMusic, and the like seem to be profitable.
Also, I assume Eleanor is a student. If we want our students to become the next generation of excellent artists and thinkers, we need to ensure they have access to the best that has been thought and said. If Eleanor has to make do with Shrek the Musical because that’s the only sheet music her public library has, her education will (arguably) suffer. JRB writes that she is not entitled to have his sheet music, but entitlement is sort of an artificial construct and is largely defined by the moment and society. Our society tends to believe children are entitled to a good education. There is a conflict of entitlements, then (JRB’s entitlement to be paid for his work and Eleanor’s entitlement to perfect her art). In this case, JRB loses nothing if she copies his song (assuming we believe she isn’t able to buy it anyway, so the opportunity cost of losing a sale doesn’t exist), so I sort of feel her entitlement might win out.
We need better, more expansive, and more clearly defined copyright law for education and archival work. Too much is rotting away on shelves because educators and archivists like myself who respect copyright law have no legal way to make the material accessible and the copyright is now so long that material is often lost before it can be made accessible. A couple of high profile and powerful lobbies keep pushing the end date further and further back with the result that we are losing the public domain that allowed musicals like Les Misérables to be written and Gilbert and Sullivan to be performed by theaters without the budget to license Guys and Dolls. If copyright, returned to its original limit of about 20, artists like today’s patent holders who manage to make money despite this 1-generation limit, could still profit for a time our culture could more easily build upon their work.
[FROM JRB: Yes and no, and I’m getting a little deeper into the weeds here than I really want to or have time to fully argue or articulate. I don’t think this is an either/or situation – Eleanor’s entitlement to a good education shouldn’t have any conflict with my entitlement to make a living, and I don’t think the people who safeguard Eleanor’s entitlement would suggest that it should. In fact, learning and defining ethical behavior is as much if not more of a critical component of higher education than the literary (or musical theater) canon.
The publishers, furthermore, are indeed adopting new strategies for making the work available; I had to push Hal Leonard to do it, but all of my published work is now downloadable on sheetmusicdirect.com. But consumer morality is a process, not a codified thing – you acknowledge so many other things as evolving processes, but you don’t seem to think consumers have any responsibility in that paradigm. People wear seat belts now because it’s the law – they could just as easily not wear them, and for years they didn’t, but finally Ralph Nader and co. were able to convince the powers-that-be that only federal intervention would change people’s behavior, and lo and behold, they were right. When the consumer is educated, and most importantly held to a higher standard of ethical behavior, I do think positive changes can be made.
As I said when I started, I’m not up to debating experts on these subjects, and I know that you deal academically and professionally in exactly this debate, so I’m going to bow out now and let someone else take over if they’d like.]
To reiterate Brian’s point, you can get a Visa gift card at plenty of retailers. These are great workarounds that allow minors to purchase items online without needing a credit line or bank account.
However, along the lines of being an ethical consumer, I might recommend purchasing these gift cards at some place other than Wal-Mart.
(I’m not trying to provoke political discussion. Just trying to suggest another avenue for teenagers to make online purchases.)
Jason Robert Brown FOR THE WIN!!!
A quick concession before I too must bow out and return to the work I should be doing: Yes, consumers do need to learn ethical behavior and to respect an artists right to be paid. And yes, I see modeling and teaching that ethic as an important part of my work. We may quibble about the gray areas, but we’re very much in agreement on that point. After all, I want you to consider it worth your while to write something new (and soon! You think maybe if folks pirate all the jukebox musicals from last season they’ll go away?).
You make completely valid points. And legitimately just convinved me to stop using said trading sites. What, though, is your opinion on sites such as … [URL redacted]
…for amateur “acoustic” versions, which in a sense are “transcribed” but are free for others to use and perform?
[FROM JRB: Honestly? I think they suck. That’s an arrangement of my work, done without permission or authorization, and as such represents an illegal use of my copyrighted work. Just because it’s not charging money doesn’t mean it’s not an infringement. If the person who wrote that asked for permission to arrange, even gave the basic copyright information, maybe linked to a site where you could buy the recording or the sheet music, I’d still say it’s an infringement, but I’d be a lot less pissed off about it.]
If I can throw my two cents in, I’m a composer too, and I have actually leaked my own sheet music to some of these sites, intentionally. The reason is that the exposure from people spreading my music around is more valuable to me than the little extra money I could be making if I didn’t.
One more thing. Your legal argument is solid, not even a gray area, but I think there’s an ethical point worth considering. You constantly say in your interviews that the best way to become a better writer is to extensively study the work of those before you. I can’t imagine how this would be possible if teenagers pay for every cast album and piece of sheet music that they own. Let’s say the average teenager can afford $100 to spend on this, which is probably overgenerous. That’s enough to buy 5 albums on iTunes and 5 scores on sheetmusicdirect.com. That’s hardly an education. Sure there’s the library, but as you mentioned, it’s illegal to rip library CDs to your computer or photocopy sheet music from the library.
So, while I completely agree that you have a right to every penny, I think it would be nearly impossible for an aspiring writer to legally obtain the self-education needed to further the achievements of the field you’ve dedicated your career to. I am not at all arguing that such a person is in any way “entitled” to this education whether they can afford it or not, I’m just wondering if, as writers who care about the future of this field, this is possibly a sacrifice worth making.
[FROM JRB: Danny, thanks for writing. I know the point you’re making seems perfectly logical on its face, but I can refute it fairly easily – the Internet did not exist when I was a kid, and I managed to learn all of this stuff without stealing it. I did spend a lot of time at libraries, at music stores, at friends’ houses, and with mentors who introduced me to a great deal of material, and yes, I’m sure some of those people had procured those things through less-than-legal channels, but to suggest that the only way to see scores for musicals is to steal them is a fallacy, and one that you will likely regret as you progress in your career. As for you leaking your own work on to the sites, I would say that’s precisely what those sites are good for – you want to distribute your work, and that’s a perfectly valid distribution channel. It is your CHOICE to do that, and that choice is the specific thing I am fighting to preserve. I do not choose to have my material distributed for free; why do you get to choose your version but I don’t get to choose mine? Just because I’m more accomplished? I certainly care about the “future of the field,” but come on, Danny, it’s not like musicals have gotten better since the dawn of the Internet. Maybe a little more selectivity would be helpful!]
Jason: What you wrote is terrific, and I’m going to put a link to this on my Facebook page, as I’ve done with previous blogs of yours. Unfortunately, it is not just teenagers who think that way. Right now I’m dealing with a theater company that did a production of a show I wrote, for which they charged admission. And although the actors were paid and the director and producer were paid, they see no need to pay me for use of my copyrighted script, and tell me that although “technically” (their term) they’ve violated my copyright, I shouldn’t feel bad because they’ve done lots of shows on this basis, and they are helping me to become better known. The illogic amazes me. Good luck!
[FROM JRB: The actors were paid???]
I’d love your opinion on a nuance of the doctrine of fair use. I have a lot of music in my collection (ie, on my computer and mp3 player) that I did not specifically buy, but rather that my brother or one of my parents bought… similar to how you wouldn’t buy four copies of a DVD, but one for the whole household. On the other hand, a friend and I have split the cost of a CD and then both ripped it to our computers. It seems to me that that still falls under fair use, but on the other hand it does seem like a bit of gray area. I’m a lot less on the fence in the first case, even though there’s twice as many people sharing one copy of an album. Thoughts?
[FROM JRB: Eeek, I’m wary of turning into the Ann Landers of copyright ethics. You’ve got to have an internal barometer for yourself about this stuff. That said, perhaps a good rule of thumb is that a household functions together, and therefore items purchased for a household can be considered a sort of collective property. And while splitting the cost of a CD and then burning it to both computers is certainly neither the spirit nor the letter of the law, it’s hardly a particularly egregious violation. I’m often reminded of a woman who went to a Weight Watchers meeting feeling horribly guilty about having finished off an entire bag of carrots and was told by the class leader, “Honey, no one’s here because they ate too many carrots.”]
You are totally right about the sheet music, a guy has to make a living right? Despite these people ‘trading’ your music, there is one small positive point to come out of all this…People all over the world think that your work is wonderful…in fact, every song and show is a masterpiece, and will stand the test of time forever.
I hope we soon see your next masterpiece very soon, your work really makes people understand life better than they did before (particularly Last 5 Years).
Hope to see you over in London sometime soon, i’m always on the look out for productions of your work, amateur or pro, i someday hope to perform in your productions (especially as Jamie in L5Y, although no-one matches Norbert in my opinion, but I’ll certainly try when i’m the right age for the part).
Anyway, dont let these ‘traders’ grind you down JRB, as you put it yourself..’just keep rollin’ on’!
The thing that makes this whole exchange utterly frustrating is the sense of entitlement that Eleanor exhibits throughout. Her entire argument for illegally exchanging and using copyrighted materials when you really get down to it is that she can do it instantly and anonymously, seemingly without consequence (after all, even when confronted by the composer himself, she claims that it could not just be an empty threat from someone pretending to be him, deflecting from the real issue at hand). I think this is symptomatic of a generation that is still struggling to understand the implications of using the internet, people that are still struggling to balance the rewards of instant gratification with the consequences that inevitably come with it.
Children are entitled to a good education, but that should include teaching young people to respect the legalities of a writer/artist’s work– or even at a more basic, less legalese level: to respect rules/laws and not to disobey them just because you feel you deserve to be an exception or can get away with it. I think that artists should strive to make their work more readily available, particularly through the different mediums of the internet, but who is to say that they can’t get paid for it too? With all these sheet music sites up, Eleanor could have gotten access to the music she needed instantly. True, financial or familial reasons came into play, but what about an aspiring high school actress who may not even have access to a computer? I’m not saying that it wouldn’t nice to provide these things to everyone, but we are certainly not in a position to say everyone can be privileged with access to these resources.
This is not to say that I think that Eleanor’s views of the matter will ever change or the problem will ever go away. But JRB wasn’t even threatening legal action– he was merely asking her to respect his work and the fact that the issue of compensation she was ignoring is a part of his livelihood. One of the things I found most amusing throughout was that she repeatedly said that JRB was “a genius” who was clearly providing a service she was in awe of and thankful for– yet even with all her admiration, she didn’t feel compelled to stop undermining the terms of using his work.
Question for JRB (or, if you’re no longer answering questions, up for debate!):
You said that unpublished sheet music was easy enough to get published in this day and age for you – what about songs that were unpublished 60 years ago? Is it unethical to share those? I’m thinking specifically of Marc Blitzstein – I own all three of the published Blitzstein songbooks, but he still wrote dozens of other songs that haven’t been published, and you can only find handwritten on microfiche in his archive.
Would it be unethical for me to scan some of these songs from microfiche into a pdf file, and if friends ask me to use them, share it? It would be virtually impossible for them to get these songs, unless they live in Wisconsin and have access to the microfiche in his archives.
I am honestly curious as to people’s reactions to a situation like this. Clearly, Blitzstein is a pretty hard sell for sheet music, and no one’s really clamoring for songs from Reuben Reuben or No For an Answer. I wouldn’t be surprised if Boosey & Hawkes are losing money on his songbooks.
[FROM JRB: Look, I can’t speak for the Blitzstein estate. In fact, it occurs to me that the only people qualified to answer this question are the people at the Blitzstein estate. And if you can’t get a timely or reasonable response from them, I’d say (without wanting to defend this statement in court) that they’re abdicating their responsibility as stewards of that material and those copyrights.]
You’re also doing Eleanor a favor by reminding her that all of us have to determine what our priorities are. None of us can have all the things we want. When I was a teen, I gave up buying comic books to save up money for theater tickets; it was a choice I made. Before I could use credit cards or had my own checking account, I learned I could use cash to buy a money order from the post office, and buy things through the mail that way; that option still exists. If Eleanor does not have a Paypal account, chances are that one of her friends does. If they wanted to, they could buy something for her online and she could reimburse them with cash. She would RATHER spend her cash on something other than sheet music, which she perceives as something she can get for free. But a lot of younger people think of music generally as something they can get for free–which is scary. Thanks again. I hope she writes you again.
Bahaha. I almost wish that I would have reacted this way instead of just being like yup no problem. It’s exchanges like this that remind me that life is worth living for the laughter that they bring.
I will be completely honest. Before reading this I was one of those music sharers. I never thought about what you and other composers feel like. After reading this I was so disgusted that I quickly deleted my sharing account. I want to apologize to you for my insensitivity.
Quick sidenote – much love from the 13 Ohio premiere cast!
I feel like I have to share this with you. I do participate in one of those music sharing sites, and ironically, was preparing to upload the rest of my sheet music tomorrow to “share” with the rest of that online community. I’ve read over this blog and some of the responses several times, and have, after much consideration, decided to go and delete my account. At first, I just said to myself, “I just won’t upload JRB’s music.” And then I heard how utterly hypocritical and stupid that sounded. I really never thought about music trading in this way before. I mean it in the least cheesy way possible when I say you have inspired me to do better. Thank you so much for treating this girl, who asked many of the same questions in my head, as patiently as you did, and for speaking to her like an adult. So few adults do that.
I also think it’s bloody adorable that she never believed it was really you. Just a sidenote.
Thanks for the inspiration, both in this matter and in so many other ways.
I’m surprised we’re this far into the discussion and no one’s mentioned Creative Commons yet.
There’s something to be said for the economic and cultural benefit of giving your creations away with strings attached. Cory Doctorow’s made a darn good living for himself releasing his books with a CC license. If you want to share his books with a friend, go for it. If you want to buy a printed copy, he’ll gladly sell you one. In the end, he sells a whole lot more because his books are available for free. Then add on the speaking fees, book tours, and ad revenue on top of that.
Reading your exchange with Eleanor, I was reminded of this interview with Cory:
It seems like there’s a similar opportunity in the musical theater world. Why not release your next work under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike license? Anyone who wants the music can download it and share it. Include a nice note encouraging them to buy a copy for their favorite library. Make it clear that performances are OK as long as they’re not charging admission. Once people are paying to see it, you expect your cut fair and square. Sell extra materials (rehearsal CDs, composer’s notes, cast recordings) on the side.
I think you’d be pleasantly surprised how much money you can make giving your material away.
[FROM JRB: All I can say is that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for others, and that goes in both directions. Getting my work published involves copyists, orchestrators, typesetters, and other collaborators, all of whom charge set fees, which under a Creative Commons license come only out of my pocket, and maybe get reimbursed one day. I can’t do my work at the level I want to do it under those strictures. My work is published by a large multi-national corporation under an exclusive license because that is what serves my legal audience best. Believe me, I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time chasing 13-year-olds, this was a more or less isolated experience, but Hal Leonard actually does spend its time chasing 13-year-olds, and they have the resources to do so. Whether that’s the best use of their resources is a question that will be answered within a couple of years, I think, as all of this shakes out.]
Thank you for answering. Of course it is your right to get your work for free or not. Nobody doubts that. What Internet does is to blow the concept of copyright, but on the other hand it gives world wide expansion. You cannot think that you are known only because of your talent. If you do, you should think more about it. You have a considerable talent but you are being helped, hugely helped, by p2p nets or YouTube-like sites. I am happy that you are not starving, but the topic deserves a little more depth. You have written some pretty good scores. You have already earned a considerable amount of money from them. Do you expect to be paid forever from a work you did fifteen years ago? Normally people are paid for what they do in the present or immediate past. I am a professional playwright and beyond the money that I earn from the first couple of years I prefer to be widely known than wasting my time and energy lecturing with arrogance a poor teenager. I want my works to be played at a professional level, but is also nice to know that amateur companies play your play and I do not want them to pay a single coin to me. I write my plays partly to have something to eat and somewhere to live, but mostly I do it to give the world a little magic. If they get it for free it is something that is not so bad. It exponentially grows that magic. A lot of people that read my plays for free then go to the theater and pay. Otherwise they would never have come, or even know that the play exist. If they do not like the play, they do not come and it is OK. I know the producers of one of your plays in my country and at first they discovered it through a pretty girl on the YouTube singing the songs. Later they downloaded the score for free. They saw that it was a nice material and then they produced paying all the fees. It is not only the talent that spreads your score, JRB. And they are not shitty people. They are sheety people if you like, but at the end they appreciate your work as well. And, if you still want to defend your rights, I do not think it is a good idea to do it in the way you have done with that girl. She was weak and you took advantage of it. There are better ways, all of them useless I guess. If some of my comments have offended you I apologize. I am actually an admirer of your work (well, not of 13…) but I like to say things straight and clear. Best regards and good luck.
[FROM JRB: Art, I think we have to chalk our differences up to cultural distinctions. As long as someone is making money from my work, I believe that I should get a percentage of that. If a theater company is charging admission for my show, some of that money is rightfully mine – if the theater company disagrees, they are welcome to do someone else’s piece who is either more naïve or more magnanimous. If I choose to let people read or hear my work for free (and I obviously do, since this website is chock full of my material, all available free of charge) that should be MY choice – you seem to be saying that even if someone steals it, even if someone takes it without paying for it, I should be grateful because it’s getting out in the world. I can’t agree with that. If I want it out in the world, I know how to put it out there, and that should be my choice, not the choice of some random Internet pirate.
You also keep berating me for my tone with Eleanor, but I think I treat her with respect, and I engage her in a substantive dialogue without insulting her intelligence and without dismissing her pro forma as I suspect other adults would. Judging from her responses, she seems more than capable of handling it, and if not, then she learns a lesson about engaging with someone much older and more experienced – that lesson in and of itself has considerable value, and I don’t think you should dismiss it just because I speak frankly to her.]
Thanks for doing a blog about this; I’ve been waiting for it. I’m stunned that someone would argue with you about it for so long, but I appreciate the debate that’s been sparked and the elucidation of your stance. I guess the next time I’m trying to figure out how you notated a particularly ear-catching bit in the orchestrations, it’ll be back to sitting in the pit after the show …
When I chided my daughter for illegally downloading music she said “but everyone does it.” Jason, you are and continue to be my hero.
Copyright is in crisis. Photocopying, sound- and video-recording, computers, and the net have all made it increasingly difficult for the owners of copyright to enforce their rights. Levies or legal penalties only patch the holes in an already leaky system. The flaw lies not in the technology or in our society, but in the very notion of copyright.
Intellectual “property” does not behave like material property. If I give you a physical object I may no longer have use or control of that thing, and may ask for something in return — some payment or barter. But when I give you an idea, I lose nothing. I can still use that idea as I wish. I need ask nothing in return.
The laws of exchange of matter being so very different from the laws of exchange of information, any attempt to trade ideas with material goods was destined for trouble sooner or later.
Not only do people hold on to ideas for material gain, they also hang on to them for psychological gain. The ego likes to be identified as the source of a particular insight or concept. But what right has the ego to attach itself to something that was never its in the first place?
We say “an idea came to me”. I did not make it happen. What I do is shape the ideas “that come” into forms — usually words and images — that satisfy me, and hopefully communicate something to others. If I am to be paid for my work (which I am not averse to), I should be paid for my time and energy, not some dubious concept of intellectual property.
Thoughts are free. They should remain free, and be given freely.
And, following the universal law, the more we give the more we shall receive.
[FROM JRB: I’m not sure it’s as simple as “thoughts are free.” Our experiences shape our thoughts, and those experiences may come at a rather high price – that’s why lawyers get paid more for their “thoughts” than electricians. (Lawyers also get paid more than teachers or journalists, which I can’t exactly defend, so I’m going to wander to a different topic now.) But the point remains, some thoughts, and the people who think those thoughts, are considerably more valuable than others, and should be treated as such, whether that comes to monetizing that value or some other form of valuation.]
From one composer to another: Thanks, Jason!
All good things,
Eleanor, check the library for sheet music. Also, sing classic Broadway. You will outgrow JRB’s music in a couple of years … think classic.
[FROM JRB: Um…thanks for the, uh, support, Gwen?]
The Obama Administration announced they’re going to get tough on Piracy.
Congratulations on spelling out an ethics lesson to an obviously confused and proud young girl. This is exactly what is wrong with the here-and-now generation! Honestly, she might have politics (dirty politics) in her future, which is scary! Amazing how easily she justified poor behavior and blamed everyone else including you for putting her in that position. You were eloquent, clear and concise as always!
You’ve given her something her parents should have given her a long time ago:
a reality check.
PLEASE send this in to “The Dramatist.” I’d love to see it published!
Jason, if you get a chance, ask Georgia if you can borrow the copy of Starving the Artist I sent her. It’s a quick read, and based on your post here, I think you’d dig it.
[FROM JRB: Thanks, Bill!]
Hey, hoping you can answer a question for me, Jason.
I used a program to record the music you put on your website that’s not commercially available so I could listen to it when I’m not at my computer. A friend of mine wanted the same luxury, so instead of making him download the program I used and record each song again, I just burned him a copy. Anything wrong in that?
[FROM JRB: Well, that’s sort of the usage I expected when I put that stuff on this site.]
No need to “diss” Texas in your argument… 🙂
Can’t judge an entire state by some of the occupants.
[FROM JRB: Is this where I say the thing about how some of my best friends are Texans?]
You should definitely write a musical about this.
I don’t know many parents who wouldn’t take a fiver and charge that sheet music on a kid’s behalf and then hand over any change.
If it’s important to a talented kid, it’s important to an intelligent parent.
Wow. This is brilliant. You explained everything clearly and sympathetically, and you never lost your temper with her at any point.
I think in your answer to one of the other comments, you hit on a major issue here which perhaps didn’t come across so strongly in your exchange with Eleanor: choice. I’m a writer. I’m not yet published (almost certainly would be by now, but the agent who had planned to take my work had to retire through ill health), and therefore, in order to get a bit of publicity, I choose to put a few of my short stories and poems on my website free of charge for anyone to read. That is my personal decision. They’re there on the understanding that nobody else tries to claim them for their own work. They’re not there so that the Eleanors of this world don’t have to buy books; the idea is precisely that people will buy my books, because they like the stories.
The choice about whether or not to require payment should always rest with the creator of the work. I’m not imputing any malice to her, because I don’t believe she can see what she’s doing, but Eleanor needs to understand that she’s trying to steal that choice from you, as well as the work itself.
I followed the link to this post because I’m interested in the copyright issue. Now I’m intrigued enough to listen to your music.
Regarding your morality tales: the screwdriver one doesn’t work because if somebody steals a tool, you lose its use, whereas if somebody steals your IP, you merely lose income–and at that point the freetards tend to argue that you gain in income through exposure etc, conflating morality with marketing decisions that are not theirs to make.
So, I wonder if a better tack is to talk about protecting the Creative Environment? Just as with the real environment, individual misdeeds have little or no impact, but the collective impact is critical.
Ironic that people who switch off lights to protect the environment, skip paying artists and thus contribute to the demise of the creative environment.
[FROM JRB: I’ve taken some flak for the screwdriver metaphor, but it’s being read more broadly than I intended. I was just trying to impress the image of my song as a tool, as opposed to some free-floating cosmic idea available to anyone. Thanks for your comment!]
Your beef with Eleanor was legitimate, I grant that.
However you violated her wishes — and the terms of publishing the conversation in your blog — to be quoted as Eleanor and not the other name. This was rude.
People in glass houses, Mr. Brown…
Bravo, Jason Robert Brown. Those of us in the copyright community salute you for taking this stand and taking the time to spread the word of copyright on such a grass roots level, and in such a thoughtful and understanding way. This is quite an impressive and enlightening exchange.
Matthew E. Martin
VP, Associate General Counsel
Random House, Inc.
Great blog post, Jason! I do have a question for you: My husband and I just started a theatre production company and I’m hoping to produce some cabaret nights to highlight our local theatre singers. I definitely want to include many of your pieces (I personally will sing “I’m Not Afraid of Anything”). From the beginning, I knew that to do this, I would ensure that all songs we perform are properly licensed. I have obtained a blanket ASCAP license, but haven’t looked into the songbook yet to see if your works are there. Are all of your works covered under ASCAP for performance rights, or is there another company I need to go through?
[FROM JRB: All of my works are covered under ASCAP if it’s just a cabaret night.]
Many people will never purchase much at all unless they can get it for free. I have met people who would never watch a single movie if they had to pay for it. They watch movies all the time but only because they can steal them.
Be it right or wrong there really is no loss of sale from most of these people. There is a loss of advertising for you if your works stopped being shared. Realistically your exposure and bank account are hurt when you stop those who won’t pay from sharing.
You have to decide if being a moral voice is more important to you then driving more sales. The market has shifted, the money is in live performing now.
Eventually we all have to let go of the idea that there is a way things should/must be. Reality is the way things are.
[FROM JRB: Sorry, John, I can’t get on board with that. I happen to make a living from live performing as well, but certainly someone who doesn’t shouldn’t be penalized – or should every composer expect to have to perform their own work in order to get paid? As to your earlier point, I have no illusion that I can either stop or even meaningfully slow down the flood of illegal usage or distribution of my work; I was just having a conversation with a teenager who honestly thought there was nothing wrong or malicious about her feeling of entitlement to my music without paying for it.]
Thanks for sharing this discussion with others, and for replying to the comments you’ve received so far. I’m glad to see you continue this discussion.
Why are your digital scores so much more expensive than print copies? It’s the opposite of digital music and physical CDs. The Jason Robert Brown Collection: 24 Selections from Shows and Albums (print scores) sell for $19.99, or less from some online retailers. That’s less than a dollar per song, whereas you offered pointed to a site that is offering one song for $4. Seems like that might be part of the reason some people are sharing scores online instead of buying them.
[FROM JRB: You’re comparing apples and oranges; collections always give a “discount” from single sheets – I remember buying single sheets in the 80’s that cost $2.50 routinely, so $3.99 thirty years later seems appropriate, even given that there’s no paper and ink. Also let it be said that I don’t control the pricing, and my personal preference would be for a lower price point.]
Jason: Thanks for posting. As an educator and a lawyer I appreciate your civility with a young person and the time you’ve taken to let both sides have their say about this important issue (the morality of taking someone else’s expression and how US law currently works so that authors can be compensated). I appreciate the thoughts that you and others have shared here. But, in a recent comment you say that when people buy your sheet music you are being compensated for your “thoughts” (“some thoughts…are considerably more valuable than others, and should be treated as such’). If you honestly believe that it is up to you to set the value and then charge for your “thoughts,” then you don’t understand the fundamental principles that govern the US law of copyright. Despite all that is right about your assertions that you are entitled to compensation when people take your expression, in writing that one sentence (about how your “thoughts” have a commercial value and are yours to exploit), you have (unwittingly?) positioned yourself against Thomas Jefferson and most of the other great theorists of property since the Enlightenment. Under US copyright law, you don’t own your thoughts once they are expressed. Ideas that are shared (even if you put a copyright notice on the expression of those ideas) are immediately and forever everyones. US copyright law only protects the expression. Your impulse to get paid for your “thoughts” suggests you think of the ideas as your property (I thought them up, therefore I own them). This is not how our system was intended to work. Nor is it how the copyright statute works. Here’s how Jefferson explained it in 1813: “If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.” http://bit.ly/o11h0 This doesn’t change the illegality of file sharing or “trading” sheet music. But I am concerned when creators muddle the law of property with the one thing that allows cultures to advance, the free and unrestricted flow of “thoughts” and ideas.
[FROM JRB: Randy, thank you so much for your comment. I’ve learned at great cost never to debate semantics with a lawyer, but let me assure you we’re on the same side as far as defining copyright; I hope you’ll forgive any errors I make while writing very quickly on a subject that I’m far from expert on. I was mainly trying to position myself on the other side of the persistent Internet canard that “Information wants to be free”; I think that’s a nonsensical statement – as (I think) Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in The New Yorker a couple of months ago, some information wants to be very expensive indeed.]
Hard to believe Eleanor/Brenna is a real teenager and not just JRB’s fictive creation to make the important intellectual property point. Either way, thanks for the enlightening argument.
[FROM JRB: I assure you that I didn’t invent her or this conversation. I can’t assure you she’s a real teenager because I’ve never met her, seen her or spoken to her, but there’s no reason to think otherwise.]
I think the part of this exchange that strikes me the most is the “I need it pronto!” argument. It isn’t as though auditions regularly creep up out of nowhere (though they certainly can). I find myself reading this as “I put off preparing for an audition and I think I should be allowed to steal your work to make up for my own procrastination.” I don’t want to sound overly critical of Eleanor, but thinking other people should give up their rights to cover your mistakes is not an attitude that gets you anywhere in life.
Hey there, Jason.
Enjoyed the concert in Portland! I’ll be playing piano for “The Last Five Years” on Friday. It was truly wonderful to get to hear you perform live.
I’m totally with you on this argument and, as a composer, I’d feel the same way if people were widely using my music for free.
Here comes my question, though. What should I do, as a music director, with all of these actors who come in with rep books for auditions filled with obviously photo-copied cuts of music, most of which has been ripped off of some .PDF from one of these abysmal sites. Do I say to them “Jason Robert Brown didn’t get his cut for this, so I can’t let you do that!”
In these circumstances I am often looking for actors to cast in shows where the theatre companies I work for (Staged! for example) have paid for the license of performing the work. How would you treat this situation? We know they obtained it illegally, and that they’re using it to get a job to make money from someone’s creation, AND that the person they’ll be working for has done the right thing by paying for the license.
My assumption would be that 16 illegal bars is still 16 illegal bars of music no matter how you chalk it up. How do YOU chalk it up?
Also, in this day and age, many composers, performers, and songwriters, find themselves trapped in this “new world” where music is so freely distributed that they find the only real way to ensure a living is by increasing the output of live performances themselves. Do you believe this is true and, if so, is this something you plan on doing to continue your way of living?
I heard you say at your show that you actually don’t compose as much as people would think, so I’d figure you count on legit performances of your work, being a professor, and music sales to make your way through the world.
[FROM JRB: Look, I don’t expect anyone to set themselves up as a satellite office of the Copyright Enforcement Agency (were there such a thing). You can educate any actors and students you work with that there is a difference between what they download for free and what is legal; and outside of that, you can encourage the people you work with to do the right thing. I can’t imagine anyone would expect more from you than that.]
Thank you. Thank you for what you have given us in your music as well as your kind hearted attempt to educate a rather well spoken, if not misguided young woman.
I am a published award winning fine art photographer who is dealing with similar people who think posting images of my work with copyrights removed is ok. When confronted most remove or give proper credit (I don’t make any money off most of my web based images except for stock images) where possible. There are also those who claim I should be glad they are stealing my work because it shows people like my work.
Your blog was brought to my attention by a friend of mine who has been helping me wrangle my images who happens to be an orchestra conductor & reads your blog.
Thank you for the way you stood fast & did not “help her out” by offering her your work for free just because she was in need.
Do I really have to pay $140.00 for Wicked? 🙂
You have the patience of a saint and I would also send Brenna/Eleanor a bill.
Thank you, Jason Robert Brown, for taking the time to correspond with Eleanor. You have documented a remarkable exchange on many, many levels.
Would you consider using this as a catalyst or a sub-plot for one of your “genius creations”? (Thank you, Eleanor!) I guess this is wishful thinking on my part, but you and Eleanor are so passionately opposed to one another, it is deeply compelling. And the specific generational values are universal in theme. I wonder where her parents fit into the story, for instance, and your family.
Whether or not you use this material, I applaud you for bringing to life this complex copyright issue that has become oh-so confusing in our electronic world.
God, JRB, you rock.
I think a lot of people take this too far. I was first introduced to your music from a friend burning a CD of The Last Five Years for me to listen to. I loved it, but immediately recognized that it’s my responsibility to purchase a CD of my own for personal use. It’s that simple. Same applies for sheet music. If I can’t afford a $100,000 car, it does not make it okay to steal one on the basis of my financial incapabilities. This is your work, and out of respect, we owe it to you. $3.99 isn’t a price to pay – it’s rather insignificant in the world – but it’s a gesture of our appreciation for your work in communicating something we can understand.
Your post is a drop in the ocean, but people still notice. Thank you for writing it, best of luck!
If nothing else and whether you change this young woman’s mind or not, you stood up for yourself and said, “Its not okay to steal from me.” For that I salute you. I don’t think I would have had the patience with her that you showed, or would have thought she was worth the time and effort your gave her. Kudos!
I wonder how many tunes she has managed to purchase for her iPod? The iPod with Brynna’s name rather than her own. Probably also stolen.
On “fair use” it has problems. I have contacted a person who through “fair use” has purchased my wife’s art instruction DVDs and rents them. He sends the DVD, the renter sends it back when done. It’s like loaning the Thornton Wilder book with an exchange of money for the loan. There is nothing I can do to stop him under the fair use law. He also uses Eleanor’s logic of “I’m simply promoting your DVD” and thinks we should be thankful.
Great post. Thanks for sharing.
BTW I paid for the use of your music for Kimberly Akimbo. Worth every penny.
I applaud your willingness to share the contents of this crazy exchange. As a voice coach in the UK I am behind you 100%!
And another thing! (This has me riled…) The scenario of suddenly “needing sheet music for an audition tomorrow” is a sign of an actor/singer who is unprepared. A pro will have an audition repertoire prepared at all times, with sheet music in the their key, and covering a variety of styles, ready for any audition on short notice. Amateurishness is no justification for stealing.
Just a thought on both hers and your points.
What would you think aout making a very small collection (a sample if you will) available to the public. That way, what she seems to view as free advertising will occur, without taking TOO much money from you. It may not be practical, just wondering.
And I do agree wholeheartedly with you sir, as I am a performer and would be infuriated if my artwork were to be stolen and “traded”. Now copying for personal use? There have been many times where, plain and simply, my instructor doesn’t trust her students with her very old, expensive anthologies, and therefore makes one copy for the private use of that student. As long as the performer is making no profit (aside from a good grade) from the performance of this piece, what are your thoughts on that?
[FROM JRB: I think “fair use” pretty clearly covers the situation you describe in your second paragraph. As for providing “free samples,” there’s plenty of free stuff available on my site. I can’t do free sheet music because of my contract with Hal Leonard, but that’s a much larger discussion anyway.]
Thanks for posting this Jason! I’m really impressed, not only by Eleanor’s articulatness, but by your own forthrightness and willingness to engage in debate with her in a public forum.
I am curious what percentage of your revenue of any particular work comes from the sales of sheet music. How much do you think that revenue stream would increase if you were somehow able to stop illegal (or at least unauthorized) copying altogether?
I’m asking because I get the impression that you’re objecting on the grounds of principle, and not because it’s actually hurting you in any significant way.
The principle, as I understand it, is that you feel it is your right to make money from copies of your work. At first this seems quite reasonable–people have been doing this for a while now.
But the reason people initially *had* to buy books is because they didn’t have the technology or resources to make a copy.
Now people have been doing this for so long that they think we should be paying for the very idea of what was written, because most of the technology and resource barriers have been removed.
I’m not sure when this notion of being paid for the idea of a work came to be, but *that* is fairly new, and in some ways seems a little silly. We aren’t as good at memorising things as we used to be, because technology has made us lazy, but it is still possible. Supposing that someone hears one of your songs and likes it so much that they commit it to memory. Maybe they even use it to audition, and didn’t pay you for the sheet music! Is this worse than memorising it from an unauthorised copy?
I’m not an attorney, but I don’t think there is any legal distinction, which is how we can have a song like “Happy Birthday to You”, which everyone knows, but cannot appear in any film unless they pay the estate of the composer. I’m sure that if there was some way of collecting for every time someone sang “Happy Birthday” at a party, they would. But is it their *right*? The composer worked hard to write that song (actually “Good Morning to All”) and all of us have memorised it without permission. In that sense there are millions of unauthorised copies floating around for which the estate is not getting paid.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and propose that the difference comes in when someone starts making money from intellectual property, not when the copy is made. But I think that we’re going to be talking about this for a long time to come, as technology makes copying easier and easier.
Thank you for publishing this thought-provoking exchange (and for not charging me to read it!)
[FROM JRB: The reason “Happy Birthday” costs money when you use it in a movie is because the movie is making money, and therefore that song (being part of the movie) is entitled to a percentage of that money. Now I think “Happy Birthday” should have fallen out of copyright protection a long time ago, but that’s a bigger discussion than I’m prepared to have.
As far as percentages of incomes, yadda yadda, it’s almost impossible for me to know how much money I’m losing as a result of sheet music piracy. It’s much clearer to see how much I’m losing because of CD piracy; I’ve watched the numbers dwindle every year even though more and more people have the music. And honestly, I’m not really fighting “on principle” – I’m not even really fighting. I just had an interesting experience with this one website and thought I would share it. I’m not the Crusader that all this attention makes me out to be.]
My partners and I have spent countless hours on this subject trying to protect our business while assuring songwriters are rewarded and incented to…..write more great songs!
I truly believe your weighing in with this remarkable and enlightening exchange will make a difference – this needs to go viral!
Keep creating and we’ll keep distributing your wonderful songs in sheet music….legally.
Wonderful that you took the time to have that discussion and share it on your blog! Writing music is mind bogglingly difficult for someone like me, and I’m sure even for a genius it can’t be easy; I think it is wonderful that you can make a living off of your skill. I’m a better musician for having heard and performed your music, and I will gladly buy it from you when I need it. 🙂
I will say though, that public domain music has helped me on more than several occasions when I’ve needed some Tomas luis de Victoria or something else that was published in the 15th century, haha. There is some great and challenging public domain music out there, and people like Eleanor would do well to check some of it out for a change of pace from the music of today!
Didn’t read this entire diatribe, but caught your response referring to Brian Lowdermilk as a kid. Given the history of your rise to being a “accomplished” and “legit” composer, I consider your comment to be…well, nevermind.
[FROM JRB: What’s your problem with it? He used to be my assistant, surely I can call him a kid. There’s nothing derogatory about that, considering how many times I’ve been called one.]
JRB, no acrimony. Now we agree, more or less. If a theater makes money from your show, you have to be paid. But there is considerable theater network that is not making money with this. Should we ask them for money? Do you really prefer them not to play your play? I respect it, of course, but it surprises me. Maybe is, as you say, due to cultural differences. And I was not saying that you don’t have the right to give or not give your work for free. This is out from discussion. But let me tell you something in a relaxed and a bit playful tone: I think there is a way in which our works, after they are successful, are not only ours. I do not think this is how it should or shouldn’t be, but it seems to me this is how it is, whether we like it or not. In some way is like having a child. It will always be our child but after some time it will have a life of her/his own and we lose some rights on her/him. This is a curious effect that every successful artist have to deal with at some point. My attitude towards it is to relax and look at the nice aspect of it (for sure I am naive, but I prefer to be like that since I considered a not-to-lose thing). I have to admit that you share a lot of free material on your site. I didn’t know. But you could recognize, at least privately, that if a pirate soars the sea with your name on the flag it is advertising you, whether you like it or not. And they will bring your music to places where your website will not reach. They are still pirates, but in these places a lot of people are not pirates and will represent a benefit for you. What I am trying to say is that you have the right to share or not sharing, but pirates are there and experts do not agree whether their effect is economically positive or not. I am not doing an apology of the pirates, but I want to make emphasis on the fact that some artists are more benefited from them than they are aware of. But please don’t misinterpret me! 🙂 Concerning your chat with Eleanor, I still don’t like the way you did. From another man I would have considered OK (unnecessarily rude but OK), but from a man who has shown an extreme delicacy and sensibility in his lyrics and music I didn’t expect such a blog entry. I was checking your blog with a desire of finding the third part of the nice series of how to write a song and I found something that I consider under your level, speaking sincerely. My first thought was “JRB, leave this to others and don’t waste your precious time on such lost topic”. I think artists like us have to be a little protected from such blood-consuming aspects. But my blood temperature raised and I wrote some things I am not so proud of. It also made me a bit angry the huge amount of flatter that you receive only because of your condition of famous. It is dangerous to listen to such flattering. They will give you the reason only because they like your songs. I like your songs, but I definitely do not agree with you in some points and my rudimentary English has not helped a lot to make these points as clear as I wished. By the way, it ‘s been a pleasure to exchange some words. All the best!
JRB: it is your responsibility as a citizen, as a member of the theatrical community, and as a considerate human being to pay attention to the laws, ethics and customs that make it possible for you to do the thing you love.
The customs, and even the ethics, surrounding “Intellectual Property” are changing. 20 years ago, there was an actual finite amount of available sheet music — it cost actual money and time to duplicate, and there was a tangible item that could be passed around (like your screwdriver analogy).
Eleanor lives in a different world than you (and I) do. In her world, the supply of sheet music is as infinite as the supply of bits, and sharing a piece because you love it and want it to get more exposure is seen as beneficial to the art.
You have probably destroyed her love for your music — forever. You’ve certainly destroyed her interest in giving you the benefit of positive exposure — which was your goal.
When she grows up, and leads a theater company, she will never choose to put on a Parade revival.
Her mindset _is_ the future. It is a future where sheet music is free, and performance rights are more costly. An easily-copied stream of bits has no inherent value, but the tangible experience of listening to someone play it (like going to see Wicked) does.
A composer is nothing without performers. This will become increasingly important as we move to experiential revenue streams.
Making a living on the execution of your ideas and making a living on the distribution of your ideas are two different things. Only one of them is going to be relevant in 2030, and those who are unwilling to adapt to the new reality will become equally irrelevant.
You can lead, follow, or get out of the way.
And you should apologize to her for constantly, even belligerently, getting her name wrong.
[FROM JRB: I can only live in the world I’m in, and if I’m going to be irrelevant, I accept that. But the rules are the rules, and I feel perfectly comfortable asserting them. I also don’t think Eleanor is as fragile as you seem to suggest. If me telling her that she’s wrong to steal music makes her hate me and never produce my work, I suspect she didn’t have the thickness of skin to survive very long in the theater anyway.]
Reading your exchange, while I’m glad you took the time to attempt a detailed articulation of your views, I cannot help but feel sorry to see you so fearful of the reality that confronts you.
In my experience, moralistic arguments tend only be deployed when a person faces a challenging reality which s/he is not yet ready to acknowledge, or when s/he can find no pragmatic solutions forthcoming. In the case of copyright infringement, it’s indeed the case that the law is on your side, but I would ask you please be careful about conflating your legal entitlement to compensation for distribution of your work with a moral entitlement.
Nothing in nature mandates that you should be paid for the use of work you created years ago. Had you been writing last century, much of your work would have entered the public domain by this time. Copyright is not a sacred law written on stone tablets – it is a legal construct designed to stimulate certain economic behaviors, and is as subject to design flaws and historical obsolescence as any other human construct. Alcohol prohibition, famously, though defended vehemently on both practical and moral grounds, proved neither morally uncontrovertible nor practically enforceable.
While I sympathize with your perspective, and don’t claim that you, as an artist paid primarily through royalties, should simply resign and let your livelihood disappear without a fight, would nonetheless urge you to consider, as frankly as possible, whether it will get you anywhere to pursue this to the death. Maybe rather than fighting a new enemy with the same old tactics, you should try new tactics.
You grew up in a world where it was expected that, for any product you wanted to use, you had to pay for it (or borrow it from a friend, or use it for free because it was already in the public domain, but let’s ignore these cases). In a world where copying copyrighted material takes real time and effort, and can’t be done on a mass scale, it seems like a reasonable proposition to assume you’ll have to pay for it.
But consider the world in which Eleanor is growing up. Here, things like sheet music are just as accessible as the free text on your blog, or (a first approximation of) the sum total of human knowledge on Wikipedia, or the free songs her musician friends produce for her. What she sees around her is an ecosystem of information where there is no obvious incompatibility between distributing content for free and people getting paid for their work. Since nobody is deprived of anything when she copies digital information, it doesn’t seem like stealing, because it isn’t stealing – it’s copyright infringement. But while we have clear, deep-rooted moral instincts about stealing (a behavior which still seems ‘wrong’ even in a world without laws), the only people who have ‘moral’ instincts about copyright infringement are people whose livelihoods depend on other people not doing it.
You’ve heard the arguments in favor, I know. You dispute her feelings of entitlement to use your work for free. She, in turn, disputes your feelings of entitlement to be paid for each and every copy of your work ever made, for all time, for (almost) all use cases. She has no legal leg to stand on, but in purely ethical terms, neither of you are, strictly speaking, entitled to anything. But I will say this: in English, we have a word for the motive underlying a refusal to do good to one’s friends or neighbors when it costs you nothing in terms of resources or effort. That word is “spite”. From Eleanor’s perspective, large copyright-holding companies are essentially asking their customers to behave spitefully toward their friends, for the sake of the benefit of powerful corporations and their financially secure employees & partners.
I am not trying to tell you what you should do. But for my part I think it is clear that clinging tenaciously to a set of laws which seem neither relevant nor enforceable in our modern media landscape (and which are arguably counterproductive when considered in terms of total public good) is not going to get you very far, and that if you wish to continue your success, you are better off exercising your imagination and finding new ways to engage and expand your base of fans and contributors, rather than stomping your feet and wishing it weren’t so.
[FROM JRB: A mutually respectful relationship does not equate with “spite.” It’s not just the law that compels you to stop blowing cigarette smoke in my face, though that’s part of it – it’s also that common courtesy tells you it’s unacceptable. If unauthorized trading were unacceptable socially, then it wouldn’t be as prevalent. And I’m hardly pursuing this to the death; I wrote one blog post about it, which was scarcely longer than your comment on it.]
I hope that this experience has enabled you to overcome one of the biggest challenges we have in life…
To swallow our pride, admit we were wrong, and then most importantly, learn something from it.
I don’t say that to be condescending at all. I honestly believe that it is a lesson we all learn over and over again in life and I think it is amazing that you have now been given this opportunity to help Jason in his fight against this. I hope you do, because that would make the ending of this fascinating exchange pretty incredible! If you really think his work is “genius”, which I agree with whole-heartedly, then respect him for that, get on his bandwagon and fight along with him and all the other artists who work hard to not wear the word “starving” on their forehead!
On another note, I think its terrible that your parents won’t give you a couple of bucks for sheet music– MUSIC! A tool to educate you and further you as an artist. But there is a SOLUTION. You can buy a GIFT VISA at any local grocery or convenient store with cash and use it online. Simple. I do it all the time.
Best of luck, swallow that pride, it’s pretty awesome on the other side. Plus, what a fantastic story you have to tell for the rest of your life.
“Richard who was with me, got uncharacteristic’ly quiet, then he said, ‘All things considered I guess you don’t have to buy it.’ So, I smiled like Mona Lisa and I lay my VISA down!” -JRB (The Last 5 Years)
Excellent exchange. And for what it’s worth, I choose to believe she meant “defiantly,” which makes perfect sense in context; we needn’t assume it was an error for “definitely.”
I have an ironic idea. What if all the writer, composers and creators in the world just stopped doing what they do and go do something else like sell insurance… Go with me here. Eventually, there will be nothing new in the world and people will eventually wonder why and begin begging artists to create again. Now imagine the increase in pay artists could get due to the filling of the void. It would most certainly make up for the loss of income while people were without.
Of course i’m kidding here; but there is a lesson to be learned from Jonathan Swift. Seeing things from the extreme can sometime illuminate the reality of the present. I will admit that I have at times grabbed a few songs in the beginning of the whole file sharing began, but have since corrected my ways and go through legal means to acquire what I want or need. As a Music Teacher I understand the value of composers and will ensure my students understand it as well. I’ve already designed a lesson where they do something that would normally warrant a grade, but in the end, I don’t give them one…I “steal” their performance and they get nothing for it, no grade. Of course the lesson here being… doing something of value should be rewarded accordingly. Just as creating artists should be rewarded..how else can they go on creating?
I used to teach a music appreciation class in a high school, and as a part of that, I taught a unit on copyright, file sharing, etc.. I discovered that I was barking up the wrong tree. I was using the example in class of file sharing being the equivalent of walking into Wal-Mart and pocketing a cd and walking out the front door. I of course followed that with the question, you’d never do that would you? In response, I got a flow of responses of cool stuff friends had stolen from Wal-Mart. I think these kids do understand that they are stealing online, but this generation has reached a point where they don’t think stealing is wrong. Oddly enough, I think this is a direct result of online piracy leaking into their moral problems. I think ultimately as a culture, we’ve been battling the effect of this loss of morals by trying to cut off file sharing software, websites, etc., but at some point our culture has to come to terms with the root causes.
@JRB: Yeah, I’m criticising the screwdriver because it’s easy to willfully read the story too broadly, not because I disagree with the moral.
Wow, great article!
So interesting to see someone defend why they think they should be able to steal from you, with no permission whatsoever!
I’m just getting into the whole music writing thing, and this very issue scares me. I do admit, too, to not being as respectful to musicians as I could, when it comes to buying music, either printed or recorded; even despite the fact that I am a musician myself, hoping to make money from selling music!
You’ve definitely sparked a new moral commitment in me!
You’re a good man, Mr. Brown!
I’ve never(at least to the best of my knowledge) illegally downloaded sheet music. I’ve never shown any inclination to be a composer, but I still respect what people like you do, because it is what give music junkies like me something to work with. I’m merely a vocalist and a sax player, and I don’t write my own stuff. But I’ve never really thought about the repercussions of just taking music.
Weirdly enough, I think this is where America’s education system is failing its youth. We’re taught that everything in life is “fair” and your comment earlier about how some people thoughts are worth more than others is something our school systems would reject and squash out of kids. The musical integrity of things becomes compromised, because teachers are always trying to be “fair”. I had a director who never did that though. It didn’t matter if same kid got a solo 5 times in a row. Does that make any sense at all? :-/
Anyway. I just thought I’d put my two cents in.
This would only be better if it were fiction. I don’t understand how she didn’t get it. If she becomes a celebrity and someone tapes a play she is in illegally and they decide to market it….would she like it? Ugh…some people!
I wish that more composers would stand up for this. I would hate to see this madness prevent new music from being written.
I hope I never get in an arguement with Jason Robert Brown. I would lose horribly.
Unless there is something you have no idea about then I could study it.
[FROM JRB: Constitutional law – you could start with that one, I’ve got no idea.]
Bravo Jason! I think your point was lost on little Eleanor, who appears to be selectively poor: She says went to a show with friends after hearing a song. She owns an iPod. Those things cost much more than a piece of sheet music. But, just for the flip side and why those who share illegal music copies seems to do so: It is the publishing companies, far more than the creators who get rich from the sale of sheet music, which is why most pop/rock/mainstream recording artists form their own publishing companies or groups.
Now, sheet music pricing has increased over the years, not ridiculously so, but significantly in areas. Complete Broadway show scores are prohibitively expensive for most people. Vocal selections editions are generally published at around $20 or $25 these days. I bet you don’t get 50% of that! Individual songs for $4 or $5 seems a high price when the whole collection of songs is $20. There is the cost of printing, shipping, packing, distribution etc. So when it is downloaded in electronic form, why then is the price still so high? The cost to produce and distribute the music digitally is far less than in hard copy published form. So why are the prices not reflective of that fact?
The user who might be daunted by $5 or $6 for a single song, would probably easily drop $.99 or $1.99 for sheet music just as they have proven they will for a single song on iTunes. It might have violated your deal with your publisher, but I suppose you could have sold Eleanor a copy directly for say $2.
As a performer (of classical music) I run in to these problems less, because of the large amount of repertoire in the public domain, but I fully appreciate the fact that you [are able to] make a living creating music-and good music!-that people want to perform and buy. I also appreciate that I might a living in music, including being paid recording royalties for recorded performances which are released on commercial CDs. The teenage generation particularly has lost a sense of fairness in usage simply because of the ease of technological access. They really don’t believe people make livings publishing and performing music. It doesn’t stop them from dropping more than $100 on a concert or show they really want to see, though.
Thanks for taking the time to converse on this issue. Cheers and keep producing great material!
[FROM JRB: Hey Paul; I address this point in one of the earlier comments – I agree that the price point is a little high, but I don’t have a lot of control over that. Be careful, though, not to equate apples and oranges – collections are always going to be cheaper than buying each of the songs individually – you’re getting a “discount” because you’re buying some things you maybe wouldn’t have otherwise.]
What a wonderful argument! You’re completely correct, of course, and I hope that people will see this and quit trading the sheet music.
My only problem with it is the dig against not only my home state (Texas), but my alma mater (the University of Texas). 🙂 Our state loves protecting businesses, and as someone involved with the music and theatre departments I can tell you that you are quite popular here; everyone here that I know who has your sheet music bought it outright!
Again, great post, and on behalf of Texas, we’ll forgive the dig! 🙂
[FROM JRB: Sorry, sorry, sorry! Who knew this many Texans were going to read this article?]
Oh, thank you for putting yourself through all of this misery, you poor soul. More and more, my students ‘expect’ me to provide them with their music. They don’t care if it’s the real deal or photocopied. When I tell them they must purchase their own music, one of the standard reactions is that they don’t really ‘need’ the music, as long as I have it, because they can learn it by rote from my teaching it, or from listening to the recording. (I try help singers become singing musicians. Sigh.) When I tell them where on the ‘Net they can find the music, they exclaim, “Yes. But I have to BUY it there!” The new (and not so new) generation expects everything to be free and easy. And, for the most part, it has been, because most everybody lets them get away with it, and/or reinforces the gray and black areas by default. Bravo to you for doing something about it!
Seems like someone should set up a site to actually trade the sheet music. It gets held in escrow until the items arranged for arrive, then they are delivered to the participants.
All perfectly legal and no copyrights involved.
Honestly, copyright is out of control in this country. It should expire (at most) 10 years after the author does. Too much artistic work is locked up for literally generations in the name of protecting “intellectual property”.
All of that out of the way, you should definitely get paid for your work.
[FROM JRB: I don’t disagree with you, I think copyright has extended far beyond what it was intended to do, and has become a hurdle and a detriment rather than a protection.]
Via Twitter: @ SarahBaird
Where was Jason Robert Brown and his amazing fans (http://bit.ly/9n7aHl) when I needed him the most (http://bit.ly/9rAfwl)? via @FJOteri
I think you have a really cogent argument. I absolutely love “L5Y” (it’s nothing short of brilliant) and I admire “Parade”.
I’m 17, and when I was in 7th grade I set out on a mission to know the art of Musical Theatre as well as I possibly could. I strove to learn every single musical; the dramatic structure, the song structure and the tactics that have been used to make a moving, entertaining and most importantly to me, illuminating show. In the smartest move I’ve ever made in my life, I somehow realized to become the future I needed to be one with the past.
I also did this because I had un-supportive parents; it didn’t help that they weren’t “in the money”. I knew that I would never go to theatre camps or get special workshops or even go to a good college. I knew that no one really cared too much about what I thought and that I would have to beg, borrow and steal simply to have the possibility of working in the field.
Through this research, I have acquired somewhere near $1500 worth of music. I’ve payed about $150-200 of money that I earned from working. My philosophy was that if I ever got a piece I would listen to more than ten times I’d buy it (Title of Show, Bernarda Alba, Last Five Years :), etc.). I feel like through all of the things I have learned, I have the power to help sustain one of the greatest and most unstable art forms the world has ever known.
After really hearing your perspective, I feel convicted not to do what I’ve done anymore. Nonetheless, I’m only a few recordings away from owning every musical ever, so it’s becoming a moot point.
Now that I’ve done the sin, I want to give back to the world I took it from. I don’t think I will pirate anymore; at least definitely not commercially available albums. Still, I feel like through my searching, I have received the best education any person interested in theatre could ever ask for. Would I deny the education I’ve received to others in the same boat?
That’s my moral problem.
Wow…Is Eleanor really expecting to have a career with that attitude? Stubborn, isn’t she? I think her stage name SHOULD be Brenna.
Jason, your music has always been priceless as far as I’m concerned. And I never gave it to anyone without your permission…probably because I was just stingy.
The local kids here love you and sing your songs through the high school halls. They learned from your CDs and from legitimately purchased scores. I am very proud of them. And they think I’m a rock star for having worked with you. Thanks for that.
Well, how idiotic is this?!
First of all, it’s highly unlikely that you’ve never stolen anything in your life…office supplies from work, too much ketchup or napkins from a fast food restaurant, or not been charged for something at a store and not said anything about it. “Artists” get all sanctimonious about their “work” being stolen, but I see “artists” all the time stealing other things that they don’t think twice about.
Secondly, a LOT of libraries don’t carry musical theater scores and vocal selections, especially esoteric ones like you write. I just called two of my closest libraries and they don’t have any of your materials. I just checked the Los Angeles Public Library, they had TWO copies of “The Jason Robert Brown Collection,” one was a reference copy (meaning it CAN’T be checked out) and the other was already checked out. So if a person needed a song TODAY for an audition tomorrow, they’d be out of luck going the library route.
Thirdly, you advocate checking materials out from the library, but what’s to stop someone from xeroxing the materials once they have it out of the library, which by the way, is a VERY common practice and has been since the advent of copy machines. You can even go to the library and xerox the reference copy!
I’m sure the famous Jason Robert Brown never did any such things in his lifetime, never copied an encyclopedia for a school report, never made a tape of an album or song to give to anyone.
I wonder how many of the REAL Broadway greats were so terribly worried about their songs being illegally used by their fans. I can just see Richard Rodgers upon being asked to autograph a piece of his sheet music….”Did you purchase this legally?!”
Are you also getting on top of all the theater companies that xerox the scripts and scores they rent from the publishing houses when theaters do your shows? And what about all the copies of those copies that they make for their friends?
How many times is the artist who paints an oil painting repaid each time it is re-sold? How many times is an author who writes a novel repaid each time a book is resold in a garage sale or even given to someone else to read? You have to pay to purchase a DVD, but they don’t want you bootlegging it, YET you can pay for it on Pay-Per-View and videotape it and watch it as many times as you want for free! That’s ok. You can buy a CD and make as many copies of it as you want (as long as you don’t resell them), but you think people shouldn’t be able to copy your music and give it out free. What’s the difference between you and an oil painting artist? Famous paintings are copied all the time!
You also “steal” the copyrighted artwork from your shows to promote the CD’s on your personal website. It doesn’t appear that you’ve listed any permissions to use the artwork, so I can only assume you’re using someone else’s artwork to promote your CD’s and not paying the artists for their use. You don’t even give them any credit for their artwork!
Unless you never steal anything yourself, you shouldn’t really be coming down on anyone that steals your stuff.
You’re fighting an uphill battle. You should be grateful that you have fans that enjoy your music enough to want it.
[FROM JRB: What are you so angry about, dude? And why all the false equivalences? Surely your point can be made without resorting to what are obviously disproportionate comparisons.]
While I can respect and appreciate your concerns, I think you underestimate the majority of your audience who was first introduced to you via illegal means. The first time I heard “The Last Five Years” was in a friend’s car… the friend had downloaded the songs illegally. At the time, I was unable to afford a $20 CD at the local mall, if your CD could even have been found in such a cultural wasteland as my hometown. (Yes, I hear you, sacrifices can be made… but the person who said that a child can rarely afford to pay for all of the theatrical resources they accumulate is right. I had incredibly supportive parents, and even they could not have provided me enough money to pay the exorbitant prices our local mall charged for each and every CD. I do believe you are familiar with the insatiable appetite of a youngster falling in love with the theater, and it is NOT uncommon for a 15 year-old to be unable to come up with $20 or $25 on a regular basis.) She provided me with a copy, which as I am now about seven years older and have an income of my own, I have since replaced. In fact, I own several copies of a number of JRB properties– over the years, I’ve purchased your songbooks, CD’s, tickets both to performances on your works and concerts presented by you, etc. Had I never encountered your work, you would have lost quite a bit more than what that original loss cost you. I once read an article you wrote about sitting down with Stephen Sondheim early in your career. Imagine if Mr. Sondheim had demonstrated little tolerance for you and criticized your grammar… perhaps you would have lost faith in this institution we all love so dearly.
Oh, and if I’ve spelled something wrong you’ll have to forgive me. I’m a little too frustrated to care much about grammatical errors.
[FROM JRB: Look, I’m sorry you’re frustrated and disappointed, but the problem is not any one person who does it; there’s a systemic breakdown of a sense of responsibility or respect for the rights of creators of intellectual property. Eleanor chose to defend herself, I responded by saying that her defense was not particularly compelling or correct. That’s really the entirety of the exchange, and not anything grander or more punitive than that. And incidentally, Stephen Sondheim is exactly the kind of person who WOULD have corrected my grammar.]
Well met, Mr. Brown, well met!
I am neither songwriter nor wordsmith, I am in the visual arts, photography specifically, and the visual arts have the same problem. Your discussion with young Eleanor was well reasoned and insightful. If we are lucky and persistent, perhaps some education will come of your efforts.
Thank you so much for posting this exchange.
Jason, you would save yourself a lot of time and aggravation if you just issued DMCA takedown notices…
[FROM JRB: Right, well, that’s the thing, I didn’t want to get all legal and punitive. The point was just to engage people who are doing something that they may not even know is an infringement.]
THANK YOU! As a composer/writer I have to emphatically agree: this is hard work! I remember performing one of your songs with my college Choir/Orchestra (full permissions attained from you by a friend – Scott Douglas), Music of Heaven. For me, there’s been a steady incline of awareness of music “theft.” Now, earning my Masters in Comp, I am ever more aware (and wary) of protecting the music I produce. Thanks again, JRB!
OMG, you have unending patience! I’m so impressed with the way you handled Eleanor’s disturbing rant. For all your saintly effort, I hope you got through to her–even a little bit. Well done.
Did Eleanor ever respond to your final email?
[FROM JRB: No, Stephanie, she didn’t, which I’m a little concerned about; not because I expected some final epiphany but because I’m worried that she got freaked out by all of this, or worse, that she got personally attacked. I posted the exchange because I thought it was funny, and I thought she could be proud of the way she stood up for herself, and because I thought teenagers should be held to account for this particular behavior. But having not heard from her since the firestorm began, I wonder what’s going on.]
Jason, I own, yes, own, the original cast recordings of 3 of your shows, and i own the score to one as well. All were paid with money, but they all were purchased online on places like eBay or Amazon. Just curious what you feel about secondhand purchases. I assume the original owner paid full price, so you get your royalties, but am i doing you a disservice by not also paying full price?
[FROM JRB: Not according to the law. Second-hand stores are not depleting my income in any grand way.]
I don’t get why getting the music for free from the library is better than gettng it for free from a friend or this website. Could someone please explain that?
[FROM JRB: Because you borrow things from a library, you don’t keep them. Anyone can borrow those things, it’s a public service, and libraries are supported so that that service is available. You notice I didn’t say she should photocopy the music she gets at the library, which is, as you are asserting, exactly the same infringement as getting it off the Internet but with more work involved.]
Thanks for trying, Jason. A great conversation and an amazing read. Perhaps she’ll take your “Library” suggestions to heart and use what she’s already got at her fingertips.
“That’s an arrangement of my work, done without permission or authorization, and as such represents an illegal use of my copyrighted work.”
That’s not exactly true, is it? Isn’t anyone free to arrange and play their own arrangements of your music? Isn’t it only an illegal use if they sell or otherwise distribute their arrangment?
[FROM JRB: They ARE distributing the arrangement! If they just do it for themselves, of course that’s fine.]
I know nothing about you or your music (although now I will certainly look into it), and I came to this entry by following the link on Eric Whitacre’s website. I once had an account on the very website you spoke of until I stopped using it after realizing the consequences of my actions (before reading this blog entry, I would like to say).
The fact is, most teenagers, including myself, don’t have anyone to tell them these facts, thus we see the wide-spread use of illegal downloading services throughout the web, and don’t care to ask just in case the answer may not be in their favor. After all, ignorance is bliss…NOT.
Thank you for sharing this story. I think every person should be shown this or another story like it to show how damaging stealing something like music is to its creators.
Well done, Sir. Bravo.
I have long been amazed at how this sheet music stealing has gone on.
When NAPSTER first came out (and was totally ‘free’) I almost came to blows at a dinner party with someone who used the argument that the artists were ‘so rich’ that it didn’t matter if people traded their music online and didn’t pay them.
If you could please address how we can deal with arrangement stealing WITHIN our own business? I’d be much obliged because one of my personal favorite arrangements I did is enjoying a lovely run on someone else’s album with someone else’s name on it.
way to fight the good fight, man.
And it doesn’t hurt to be called a ‘genius’ in the process too.
This conversation is particularly enlightening…and makes me glad that I have a resource such as my college’s Fine Arts Library… It makes this sort of thing almost a moot point.
I personally haven’t performed any of your work, but you make valid points on the copyright laws.
One thing I have to wonder, what about parodies? They are in a way arranging, yet the Supreme Court has already said that you need not pay royalties or even ask permission to write/perform/profit from them.
Granted, the best ones (Weird Al being the primary example) do ask for permission. He would lose all his friends if he didn’t!
Also, as far as an unpublished work being copyrighted, I believe the rule is 26 years after someone’s death, the material is then free use. If an extension is put in, then it becomes 52 years. I’m not sure if this is still the case or what the specific details are surrounding it, but I think this is generally it.
Overall: JRB: You’re doing great things for this, and I do hope she understand the error of her ways.
[FROM JRB: I can’t imagine the Supreme Court said you don’t have to pay royalties when you write a parody. In fact, most “parodies” aren’t even credited to the parodist – it is customary that the original author retains full ownership of the song AND the parody lyric. Am I mistaken in this?]
Though intrigued, I haven’t read the entire article, so I apologize if I’m making a redundant comment…
But let me pose a hypothetical situation, though.
I’m fascinated with Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove’s THE FROGS, especially Shevelove’s original book. I want to study it, in an effort to learn about adapting classic drama to contemporary musical comedy.
Unfortunately, though, the show can’t be licensed in its original book form. You used to be able to get it from Sam French, the original licensing house, but they’ve dropped it. They don’t carry the show anymore, and stopped printing it in the late 80’s.
Nowadays you can only get a copy of the libretto from MTI as a perusal. It’s also that awful Nathan Lane version that flopped on Broadway and totally obscured Shevelove’s point, so you don’t want that. It doesn’t interest you: you want the original.
It seems the only place you can get a copy of the libretto is at some library a hundred and fifty miles away. Maybe, just maybe there’s an old wornout copy on eBay or something, but come on– it’s THE FROGS.
Then you go on a “trading” site and notice that someone offers a scan of the original Shevelove libretto.
He’s not making money from a library or eBay, and this online method is the easiest way to obtain the libretto… so what’s the harm done?
Wouldn’t Shevelove, who died in 1982, just be happy that someone out there is studying his book for its artistic merits? Studying it can’t possibly harm Shevelove’s income or anything like that… You simply are appreciating it as a piece of art. So what’s the problem?
Sorry if this long. I just want to know about this particular question of mine.
[FROM JRB: Look, I think “fair use” covers this sort of thing, but I don’t want to be the one giving my blessing to it.]
What a wonderful, simple argument you make on such a complex issue. It’s a rare treat to see an artist of your talent take the time to explain and defend your creative rights in order to make some well-deserved money from your hard work. I hope you don’t mind if I ‘copy’ the URL of your weblog and send it out to some friends so they can read your correspondence with Eleanor. Good luck with future battles!
Outstanding. The problem here in the UK is terminal and I have spent 20 years fighting this same fight. I have even had to endure singing in choirs who blatantly photocopy music which I publish. It is truly heartbreaking and a major factor in my decision to develop a career in other areas. I still write and will continue to do so even though blatant photocopying has had a hugely negative effect on my income.
This post really opened my eyes to the trading world. I would much rather buy the score / album etc to say I have a hard copy rather than a shoddy photocopy off a download site. I agree with the use of libraries. I use them all the time for sheet music and if they don’t have it they will order it in for me. However, I do see the the whole “teenager” point of view, many are short on cash and couldn’t expand their knowledge of art without the internet.
I know how hard it is for teenagers and artisits having an income: I’m a young adult trying to save money to go to drama school to get into the industry and am finding it very difficult. I’m having to think up creative ideas to support my tuition fees.
By the way, how lucky is this girl to be getting emails from JRB?!?! I wish I could!
Wait… This wasn’t satire? How absurd. At first I thought you were clever, but I realized that you’ve become a self parody. You’ve also convinced me to never give you a red cent of my money.
Also, this comment thread is a circle-jerk. There are so many self-congratulatory yes men in this thread I can barely stand it. Get your heads out of your collective holes and smell the coffee. Abusing your biggest fans may give you an extra couple of bucks now… When that girl grows up and has some real spending power she will remember how you treated her. I’m old enough to have purchasing power and am wise enough to vote with my dollars. Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. One day you will be irrelevant and attacking people like this girl will be remembered more than your fleeting pop art.
[FROM JRB: Who abused anyone? What’s the hostility? Jeez. Relax.]
I love this! So well put, Jason.
– Entertainment Attorney in LA
@Chris Leavy [comment 9336]: “Then, some time in the spring of ’07, the prevailing winds shifted and this whole concept of “sharing” was born.”
Bwahahaha….!!! If you really think that file sharing only begun in 2007 then you really need to stay in a bit more and actually read up on the history of the internet.
@Bruce Babcock [comment 9337]
Sir, I will put this as politely as possible: you are a fool who has no understanding that digital replication does not stand up to any definition of theft: there is no deprivation going on. You are not taking an object from someone. There is nothing physical to take.
Making any comparison to physical theft is specious and fallacious.
[FROM JRB: It’s not as specious and fallacious as you want it to be. There are two elements to physical theft; only one of them is depriving someone of their own property – the other is taking something that is not rightfully yours. And your version of “as politely as possible” is still in need of some refinement.]
As a performer, and a student spending WAY too much money to study Musical Theatre in Chicago, I, at one time in my teenage acting career, could have sympathized with Eleanor for the lack of money with which to purchase sheet music. Over the course of my sophomore and junior year of high school, I, too, used this site- most likely the same one of which you speak- in order to obtain new sheet music.
Four years have passed since I created the account on that site. For the past two years, I have not been active on the site, as I moved to Chicago and began working with new composers and performers and seeing this plight first-hand. I, until I really began working with true artists who are as passionate about this business as I, had no problem “trading” sheet music. That is no longer the case, and I’m happy to say that after reading this, I, although being inactive on the site for two years, officially deactivated my account with the “trading” website.
Being an artist, I now have more respect for other artists, no matter their mediums, than I ever could have imagined … and I have so much gratitude for the artists who are striving to create music and scripts for myself and my colleagues.
It is, in large part, due to your music, Jason, that I have such a passion for and love of Musical Theatre, and I thank you for- and respect you for!- the work you create.
I vow, here and now, to never accept the work of any artist without compensating that artist for the time, passion and talent they put into that piece of work, so that I might bring it to life with my time, passion, and the use my talents.
All the best to you and yours, JRB. And THANK YOU.
[FROM JRB: Thanks, Katie. I’m getting a lot of heat from the “information-must-be-free”-heads, it’s very kind of you to write such encouraging words.]
Your comment section is a complete circle-jerk, so I don’t anticipate you’ll wind up posting many responses contrary to your own head-up-your-ass opinion. Here is what people really think of you: http://www.reddit.com/r/Music/comments/cko6k/theatre_composer_jason_robert_brown_tries_to/
[FROM JRB: I don’t know, I find lots of people willing to defend me on that site. Incidentally, what’s all the hostility? I’ve posted every single comment that came into this site except for ones that attacked Eleanor personally. Relax, Carl.]
The first two of your final third scenarios are flawed. Here you are confusing borrowing physical things (which has scarcity) with a free copy of a digital thing (which has zero scarcity). If instead of lending the book to someone, I made them a copy, I wouldn’t have that big empty hole in my bookshelf. I strongly support paying for sheet music (and I love its quality!) but just a heads up 😉
[FROM JRB: I addressed this point in an earlier comment – I think the “screwdriver” metaphor is being read more broadly than I intended. My point is that it’s a tool and should be treated as one, rather than some kind of “idea” that belongs freely to the world.]
I’d just like to raise an issue about the quality of sheet music available in books and for purchase online versus the quality that can be found on sheet music ‘sharing’ websites.
Example 1: Last year, I sang ‘Lost and Found’ from Cy Coleman’s ‘City of Angels’ for a university assessment. I dutifully bought a digital copy of the song. On further inspection, I noticed a) the lyrics had been changed so that the song made sense outside of the context of the show, destroying the character development; b) it had been transcribed in C major, which really didn’t work (it’s a jazzy song); and c) it was missing the bridge, which really sets the scene. I went to the music library in my city, and the version in their ‘Vocal Selections’ book was exactly the same. I found a copy on a music ‘sharing’ website that had the correct lyrics, the correct key (B major) AND the bridge. Wanting to keep the performance true to the show I love, I used the ‘shared’ copy.
Example 2: I’m currently in rehearsal for a show for which we have happily paid thousands of dollars in rights to perform. However, we were told we would only receive rehearsal materials (i.e. sheet music) two months in advance of performance. Being unable to rehearse full-time for those two months, and with intricate harmonies we couldn’t just pick up from the cast recording, we realised we’d need the sheet music earlier than that. The sheet music has not been published, however a copy of the piano/conductor score used when the show was on the West End was floating around the internet. We downloaded it and used it to rehearse with until the official sheet music arrived.
Example 3: I was recently looking for an audition song. Paid sheet music websites can be cumbersome to navigate, and you often can’t look at the whole song before buying. I downloaded a PDF score of a musical, found a song I liked the look of, and promptly bought a copy of the individual song online.
JRB, I realise that your music is available to download legally, presumably in its full and unaltered form, and that is absolutely fantastic. However, sheet music sharing websites have their place. They are sometimes the only place you can find entire scores – not just ‘Vocal Selections’. They give you music in its original form, with the full intro, with the dialogue markers, with the chorus as well as the soloist, with the context of the song before.
I also fail to see the harm in photocopying out of a library book. Why take the book out and deprive others of using it for a month when I can just photocopy the song I need and put it back on the shelf?
Also, and forgive my ignorance on this one, but why is is about five times as expensive to buy sheet music compared to buying a recording on iTunes? I feel like a lot more people would buy sheet music if it was $1 per song.
For the record, I regularly buy sheet music online. It’s clean (I mean literally – it doesn’t look like it’s been photocopied out of a binder) and often transposable. But I also like reading through full scores, and they are eminently useful. Unfortunately, full music theatre scores are generally not available to buy digitally (unless you buy every song individually and set yourself back about $80 for a full score) nor loan from any library I know of (my city has one of the most comprehensive music libraries in the world, but still only has ‘Vocal Selections’ for TL5Y and Parade). Hence, music ‘trading’ websites.
I’m not defending people who believe they’re entitled to free sheet music – just saying that these websites are useful and there are a number of issues discouraging people from buying music, not just the price.
[FROM JRB: Madeleine, thanks for writing. I think I’ve addressed some of your issues in earlier comments, but just in terms of the three examples you raise, I have to recuse myself. The issues I raise in this blog are both more universal and considerably narrower than your comment suggests – I think there is a general trend toward thinking that theft of intellectual property is permissible and even a “communal positive,” and that’s problem one; and problem two is that this one girl was fighting me about stealing my music, which I was trying to dissuade her from doing.]
I sincerely enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing.
But I have a question. Ethical debates are always fun:
Right now I have a sincere fondness for downloading “bootleg” recordings of live jazz performances. The spirit of jazz is improvisation, which I (and many others) feel cannot be kept in the confines of studio recordings.
Coltrane has been dead for decades. I’ve bought and listened to all of his studio albums. What he did was great, but it wasn’t the real Coltrane. The real Coltrane was the guy who got up on stage late night in smokey bars, and you can hear a real difference in the improvisatory style and the actual *sound* when you listen to live recordings. The only way to listen to the real Coltrane now is considered illegal. Who are we to deprive people of this? More importantly, who is being hurt? This stuff wasn’t recorded, so there is no profit to be lots by the studio, record company, or estate. The artist is dead, so there are no opportunities for people to replace the cost of a live show. I’m sure if anyone who wanted to see Coltrane live could pay $1000 a ticket to bring him back from the dead and see the Zombie Coltrane concert would do that. But the fact is we can’t.
Of course we should support artists, composers, and everyone else involved in the process. Buy records. Buy your sheet music. Go see shows.
But what about those darn dead guys?
[FROM JRB: There are plenty of arguments to make on both sides of this issue, and I’m not qualified to wade into either of them. Enjoy the bootlegs if you want, try to be responsible, support the art you love. I don’t have a lot more than that to offer.]
You know, I was with you for a while and thought it was interesting to see a copyright holder – rather than a bunch of litigious corporations – looking into the problem.
However, your first two ‘stories’ and the general tone suggesting that this ‘trading’ is inherently wrong thoroughly changed my mind. As an educated non-teenager I find your treatment of this girl distasteful and patronising.
I was about to say that I would immediately hunt down your work and download it out of principle but then I discovered that I’m not a fan. Oh well.
[FROM JRB: That’s your prerogative, Randy. It’s my prerogative to try to engage someone involved in what is at best an unethical activity and attempt to explain why I think that activity is wrong; and when she challenges me and asks me questions, it’s my prerogative to respond. I don’t think it’s either distasteful or patronizing, but lots of people think I’m an asshole, so there we are.]
As someone who spends a great deal of time arguing with teenagers (I direct plays at High Schools to supplement my acting income) I think that you handled this conversation very well.
Sometimes you have to be a bit snarky and sarcastic with teens, because that’s the way they communicate. If you mix that with respect and honesty, and refuse to talk down to them, it can be the best way to reach them. It’s a shame it didn’t work with Eleanor. But beautifully handled nonetheless.
Jason – I’m not particularly versed in musical theater, being an actor of the non-singing variety, but I went with my partner to your concert in Portland last weekend, and I was very impressed with your demeanor as well as your music. And now even more so.
May I ask, what is your opinion on lyric and guitar chord sharing sites, where people have written this information down from listening to the songs (rather than copying it from songbooks)?
[FROM JRB: I addressed this earlier in the comments; an arrangement is an arrangement, and distributing an unauthorized arrangement seems like an infringement to me.]
Sounds like a lose-lose situation for you. A: she pirates your work, B: she doesn’t use it at all. At the end of the day, you haven’t made a sale.
The problem isn’t that she doesn’t want to buy it. The problem is that buying options are limited and online methods of payment suck for those without credit cards.
You’re fighting in vain, guy. It’s not even about the right to make money anymore. The only way to curb this is to get your stuff off the internet, which is probably not going to happen.
Basically, you need to find a new way to make money off your stuff that is compatible with new technology (the internet in particular). Maybe it sucks and isn’t fair, but you’re trying to do old school stuff with new school technology. The marketplace is changing, therefore you must adapt with it.
Also, your analogies aren’t very good – again, you are stuck in an old school mindset. The very basis of the change in paradigm is the aspect of being digital. Therefore, comparing digital sheet music to a screwdriver or a book doesn’t really hold much weight, especially to younger generations. In fact, going with your analogies, I still don’t necessarily agree with your supposed outcomes.
[FROM JRB: Fair enough. I spend too much of my time writing and doing my own business to try to adapt to a new paradigm; my loss, I suppose, but it’s fair on my end to argue with where the line gets drawn between a logical evolution of technology and a lawless frontier.]
A very good post. Out of curiosity, where do you stand regarding people downloading / sharing items that aren’t available in other countries?
Being from the UK, many Broadway albums, DVDs and scores aren’t stocked in shops over here and aren’t sold on sites such as iTunes. Sometimes we can have items imported from Amazon but this can be very costly and sometimes items (in particular DVDs) don’t work over here. Do you think it’s fair to deprive us of these shows? Or do you think that publishing / record companies should make them more widely available?
[FROM JRB: I just don’t think there’s a universal cut-and-dried response to the problem. The reasons preventing a release of any given property in any given territory can be mind-boggling in number and complexity, particularly because the ownership of any given piece (is it the producer? the record producer? the authors? the underlying rights-holders?) can be such a hard thing to tease out. I obviously don’t encourage illegal activity, but I recognize that the creators may want something that other rights-holders may be unreasonably preventing. That’s a case-by-case decision, and I’m not sure how you as the consumer are supposed to know.]
Hello there Mr. Brown. Kudos to you, good effort. I would like to offer a hopefully helpful suggestion.
You accuse Eleanor of thievery, but she didn’t steal anything. She infringed your copyright. If she “stole” your sheet music, then there might be the chance of a legitimate paying customer approaching you to purchase a properly licensed copy, but you would have to say “I’m sorry we’re all out, Eleanor stole the last one we have on hand”. If she got caught and convicted, there would be no chance of her going to jail (like if she stole your screwdriver, a bad analogy as mentioned above, and as graciously admitted to by you). It is a civil matter, you could only sue her for damages.
If copyright holders such as yourself can get past shouting “thief!” at your obviously adoring fans, then maybe we can shift the discussion away from the supposed morality/evilness of “kids these days”/”big fat evil corporations”, and onto the meat of the matter – the relative merits of the few centuries old experiment that is copyright, in today’s world.
Calling a fan of yours a thief for doing what she could to get her hands on your music, is kind of like a drug warrior saying to a kid “if you smoke that joint there is a 100% chance that you will instantly turn into a lazy loser and end up a heroin junkie”. Obviously the exaggeration is not too terribly effective since both copyright infringement and drug use are rampant and growing. We should all try to tone it down just a little if we truly want any real meeting of the minds.
Hopefully you can learn something too, out of your attempt to educate her. Other than my relatively minor quibble with your terminology, I admire how you went above and beyond the call of duty. You did an admiral job considering that to you it is your personal livelihood and not just some abstract ideals. Peace.
I’d like to mention another legal way of obtaining sheet music. When I was in college, I wanted to sing for a recital a piece from an unpublished score. I did my research and wrote a letter directly to the holders of the copyright (BMI or whomever it was), asking if I could borrow the song for this purpose. Not only did they gladly mail the song, they loaned me the entire score. I don’t know if this still happens (this was before ‘trading’ sites, so perhaps publishers are less trusting now), or if everyone is as accommodating, but you’ll never know unless you ask.
Thanks for your informative post, Jason!
interesting. The teenager and the artist are both right. I can barely imagine what would happen if you could only hear music you PAID for. The whole industry would be radically different. This “money” problem is something the internet and software is facing quite strongly. “Open source” means Programmers that don’t get paid. And it’s getting bigger than software you pay for. How does this fit in our “paying the rent” economy ? I don’t know. Workaholism and delusions of grandeur, I guess. Capitalism exhausts everybody whilst it Gets What It Wants.
Wow, so much here. It’s entertaining, occasionally comical, and full of real personal attachment to what, for too many people, is a faceless and not-personal crime.
As a choir director and musical director, I am constantly reiterating these very points to my students (but without the “this is how I make my living” direct connection). I get on their case about purchasing the cast albums of shows we’re going to do, or that their friends already have. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to answer the question, “Can’t you just make another copy?” when a student has lost their choir music…
I fear it’s a losing battle, but it’s one I feel I need to keep fighting. While I fight that battle, I’ll keep waiting for your next musical, and singing the legally purchased copies of music from all your already published shows.
Interesting post! Intellectual property is a really thorny issue, and sometimes copyright is misunderstood. It’s great that you took positive action on this issue, and I agree that the DG would be thrilled to hear about this. I’m going to try to persuade MTI to let me do an editorial on their website about copyright issues, and why someone’s work will always be their work.
As the great Lily Tomlin so beautifully put it, “I hate when people use big words when small ones will do the job.”
I say this in your response to my posting, “[FROM JRB: What are you so angry about, dude? And why all the false equivalences? Surely your point can be made without resorting to what are obviously disproportionate comparisons.]”
I don’t even know what that means, but I sure find it interesting that you chose to ignore every “disproportionate comparison” that I apparently made!
So let’s keep it simple.
1. Have you NEVER stolen anything in your life?
2. Did you get permission for and attribute credit to all the CD artwork and show photos that appear on your website?
3. Are you going after all the theater companies that readily xerox and pass out your copyrighted works to actors, directors, etc., or just people online?
4. When you were an up and coming composer, did you NEVER xerox a piece of copyrighted music to use for your own benefit, or do you never do so now?
Also, several people have reprimanded you for continuing to use the young girl’s name when she asked you not to and you’ve not once apologized to her or removed the names from your blog.
Why am I so angry? Who said I was? Are you deciding that for me? I just found your endeavor to be arrogant and condescending, and I highly doubt that you’re as pure as you expect everyone else to be when it comes to your “art.”
And by the way, I am checking with the sources of things you have listed on your website to make sure you haven’t stolen their “art.” I’m not saying you have, but if you’re being critical of others and you do it yourself, that’s not a good thing.
[FROM JRB: Look, Eric, I don’t feel a need to engage with you when your tone is so hostile. You act as though I’m on a crusade to stamp out all bad behavior on earth, and really I’m just having an email interaction with someone who says she’s a teenage girl who asks a lot of questions and attempts to defend herself in ways that are pretty easily demolished. Of course I’ve made photocopies and I own bootlegs and while the majority of the imagery on my site is co-owned by me I can’t vouch for all of it nor can I promise that it’s all legally sound; none of that should prevent me from asking people not to trade my music illegally. I don’t have to be the Pope in order to preach. As for Eleanor’s name, I printed the entirety of the exchange, including my own lapses in coolness and calm, and feel like I respected her wishes by doing so. ]
You talk about your right to make money quite a lot in your post.
It’s a common misconception that copyright exists to make authors money. The reason we have copyright laws is to promote the progress of the arts and sciences. In certain circumstances, we promote art by granting commercial rights to the authors. This isn’t intended as an absolute guarantee to make money once you become an artist. It’s an encouragement. If copyright is abused to discourage others from their art, we have failed.
[FROM JRB: I don’t think I’m suggesting copyright as a way to discourage anyone from their art.]
Jason – not only are you 100% correct, but also a saint for taking on this endeavor! Bravo! Keep up the good fight!
I will share this link with my colleagues, friends, and students, so that they may also be enlightened by your very clear, passionate plea!
I hope to perform your music again soon!
In the department of “didn’t get it.” — I love that someone copied and pasted your blog posting (also copyrighted) into their own blog. See:
[FROM JRB: Yeah, there are a couple of those. Sigh.]
“I can only live in the world I’m in, and if I’m going to be irrelevant, I accept that. But the rules are the rules, and I feel perfectly comfortable asserting them.”
I think that quote pretty much sums this post as a whole. Sad and short sighted. You would rather stick to a broken and dying system, even to your own detriment, than change the way you think about your business. It reminds me of a story I once heard about the Manhattan ice companies. Before electric refrigeration the ice companies made millions selling ice. They the big boys, the fat cats, they were in the ice business and business was booming. Then came electricity and the refrigerator. With in a few years they were all bankrupt. What they had failed realize was that they were not in the “ice” business, they were in the “keeping things cold” business. You thought that you were in the music selling business…turns out you are in the entertainment business. Your little screwdriver story made me laugh. The fact is with desktop fabrication and cheap accurate robotics, copying a screwdriver will be as easy as copying an mp3 pretty soon. If you were smart you would look at Eleanor not as a thief but as a potential customer. A customer that is not being served by the current system. If these sites you hate so much are as prevalent and as popular as you say there is an opportunity to make some serious money from these people. It sounds like all they (or at least Eleanor) needs is an alternative way to pay for the music. The rules of life are simple, adapt or die. You and your terrified followers seem intent on the latter option. In the meantime I think I’ll go build a sheet music site that takes payment via SMS.
[FROM JRB: I get the sense that the most hostile responses I’ve gotten on this blog have been from tech guys. I don’t get what you’re so hopped up about – if I want to be a dinosaur, that’s my prerogative; it hardly deserves a rant of this proportion. Anyway, this is the 70th comment or something I’m responding to in a row, so I’m a little too fried to respond with any wit. The rules of life are not as simple as you think; it is not just “adapt or die,” it is also “respect those around you and join with them to create the world you want to see,” and I’m trying to encourage Eleanor to do that, whether you share that perspective on my actions or not.]
This reminds me of Homer’s great quote from The Simpsons, “It made me feel like a big man picking on that kid!”
This whole exchange was very strange. It’s unlikely to stop anything which is a shame.
Once I wanted to stage and produce “There Is A Fountain” for my high school showcase from Parade and couldn’t find the music. So I did what I would consider to be the “right” thing. I wrote JRB an email telling him my situation and asking his permission to perform the song. He not only gave me permission but he sent me the sheet music as well. Sometimes the easiest way isn’t the right way and actors and actresses need to be able to adapt if they want to survive very long – you should always have a backup plan.
Oh, and by the way Sondheim did the exact same thing for me that JRB did….only through snail mail…generational gap I suppose!
JRB– I feel it’s my responsibility as a young adult to offer you an apology for my unfortunately ignorant and arrogant peers…I’m with you 100% on the illegality of sheet music-trading websites. If people of any age are convinced that they’re entitled to any composer’s work, that indicates to me that a lack of gratitude has become disappointingly commonplace. In Brenna’s case, if she REALLY wanted to perform a piece of yours without paying for the sheet music, she should have memorized it by ear and by sheer practice and consider that to be a great exercise for her ear. Otherwise, suck it up and pay for the music; respect the hard work the composer invested in it and allow the composer to spend his time composing rather than policing infantile internet infringement. Word. PS- Eric Whitacre posted the link to this article on his twitter and that’s how I stumbled upon it, but I’m most definitely going to be a regular visitor from here on out 🙂
As a former teacher, I fought to play by the rules of copyright. I was frequently told by administrators and parents “No one cares if I make a video of my son singing that song.” and “It’s a school, we’re exempt from copyright law.” I even went so far as to ask a friend of mine who’s a lawyer and judge what I could do to protect myself from being held responsible for the actions of those who willingly broke federal law because I was NOT condoning those actions. If teachers, school administrators and parents aren’t following the law, it is easy to see why the kids don’t know it.
Your patience in explaining why it’s wrong and how to legally obtain the sheet music is admirable. Even if she doesn’t change, perhaps this blog will get others to do the right thing.
Kudos to you for the attempt!
Thank you for taking the time to patiently, generously and eloquently express the sentiments of all who create “intellectual property” in the artistic realm.
I, like all of our colleagues, respond viscerally to these kinds of violations.
As someone who has developed curricula to bring school children through the process of composition (on paper) I have also developed a curriculum to bring awareness and understanding of intellectual property through a mock business scenario in which they can experience this “first hand,” and discuss it with their peers.
I believe, as both a former school music educator and a composer that the only way to change this is to educate the school children through hands-on experiences. I’m not sure whether there is another way, sadly.
Thanks again for taking the time and for posting and sharing this exchange. I would love to see the look on Eleanor’s face when she finally realizes that she actually was having an exchange with you.
Wishing you continued success,
Your “Supervising Copyist” for State Farm ’98 Industrial, recorded at the now defunct Clinton Studios.
Hope you’re well.
(Disclaimer: I am not a pirate, this is just my opinion on the issue.)
I basically disagree with most of what you’ve said, and all of your examples as well.
You really cannot compare file-sharing to real-world theft, it just does not work. Stealing is a crime not because we want to stop people from having things they don’t deserve, but because it deprives the owner of something. In your screwdriver story, your friend wants to take your screwdriver, and this will deprive you of the use of it. You’ve lost something.
What you are arguing is the loss of potential income, income which does not and may not exist. This is a fallacious argument, and is the same argument used by the RIAA et al, which is constantly being discredited by actual experts.
Now, Eleanor is actually a good example in your favor: she can probably afford $4, and she absolutely needs a particular piece of music. Her pirating it means there is a high chance of a lost sale. However, for someone who doesn’t desperately need a particular piece, you have lost nothing. They could find another, free work to use, they could buy a work they like better, etc; there is no way to consider that a loss, only a potential loss, which is basically meaningless.
Here is where your point of view begins to break down:
“I did spend a lot of time at libraries…” – JRB
If we are honest and stay true to your logic, you have deprived many people of money by reading their work for free. Every book you read at the library was a lost sale. If Eleanor found your piece at the library and used it for her current need, you would also have lost a sale. The only difference between pirating something and using a library is the status of ownership of the material – both acts deprive you equally of potential income.
You may try to rationalize this point away, for example by using the legal status of these activities, but these too are false premises. The mere existence of a law does not make an activity moral or just, or vice versa.
Now, if someone genuinely wants to own your work and not borrow it, that person is more likely to actually buy it, as a physical copy still has a certain quality to it that cannot be replicated digitally. A book for example, I can hold in my hands, I can smell the paper, and I gain an experience I cannot have digitally – and a printout still does not convey that same experience, as it is a mere duplicate. Even a digital copy, if legitimate, carries that feeling of being a part of something that true ownership grants. However, a person that has no real need for ownership of your work has no incentive to buy it.
This brings us to another issue, and the real truth behind these arguments: the control of information versus entitlement. Many people will resort to piracy because they cannot or would not buy a product. In these instances, you are losing absolutely nothing, while said persons gain access to the information contained in your work.
I say that as no harm is coming to you or anyone else, that these actions are moral. One could argue that these people do not need your work, and could live without them, but there is no honest logic in this. These people will grow and learn, and there is no reason to deny them that due to poverty or lack of interest, besides wishing to assert control over them.
So I ask you this: do you wish above all else to control your work, or are you open to the enrichment of society at the expense of non-existent money?
[FROM JRB: I’ve been reading a whole lot of comments, and I’m not particularly swayed by this whole “you should give it away because that’s going to happen anyway” sentiment. I think your final paragraph is a false choice. Of course I want to control my work, that’s how I can assure that it says what I want it to say, both in and of itself and about me as its creator; and I hope that that work enriches society. Those things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.]
I’m not following you.
You act like you’ve cured cancer.
You wrote some music. Do you know how many people are able to listen to said music then write it down? Are you seriously suggesting that people capable of doing such things are violating copyrights?
That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. If I hear a song then I put it to paper I’ve violated no copyright. If I share it, I’ve still violated no copyright.
[FROM JRB: Dude, I’m just having an email argument with a teenage girl. Relax. Do whatever you want.]
A theatre around here did L5Y last year. I do music prep freelance, so I was hired on to fiddle around in Sibelius and make a full orchestral score out of the band books. I felt like I was doing something illegal the whole time…
And I’m just curious where you stand on published vs. unpublished stuff — I know there are work drafts of Honeymoon in Vegas and Urban Cowboy on that site, since I got them a while back. Fortunately, they were deleted in a hard drive crash, and I don’t even use the site anymore. Personally, I’d see more of a problem with that kind of stuff floating around than some teenager xeroxing Stars and the Moon. Is corraling your unpublished stuff more of an issue for you, or is this mostly water under the bridge now?
[FROM JRB: Honestly, Josh, it’s all water under the bridge because there’s virtually nothing I can do to stop it. I do find the distribution of my unpublished work to be a particularly egregious violation of my rights, and I wish people would just not fucking do it, but I’ve gotten to the point in this discussion where all I can do is roll my eyes and sigh.]
“Texas! Of all places!”
Ummm… did Texas do something to you when you were a child?
[FROM JRB: I SAID I’M SORRY! I’m SORRY!]
I am at a Parade rehearsal right now and I just want to say that all of us are so fascinated at this scenario. Thanks for posting. Love your work.
To wit, the girl really just needs to go get a pre-paid credit card, which are available at 7-11 and WalMart and most gas stations.
It’s amazing that you put this much time in to help one girl open her eyes.
Unfortunately, it’ll likely take some age. Ethical restraint usually doesn’t develop until the early 20s. It’s a simple question of biology; that part of the brain is still growing.
Hopefully the wisdom you showed in setting up the right to publish will help reach someone else, though, whose development timeline is more appropriate.
It makes me really happy that you imply above (when talking about “Happy Birthday”) that you believe the current copyright period is too long. Some of the best arguments/excuses for piracy are based (at least in pretense) on the serious flaws in our current copyright law. If you, and others like you, argued for shorter periods and clearer fair use exceptions at the same time you’re arguing for stricter enforcement (and convinced your unions to do the same), I think it might go a long way in changing the current societal ethic on the issue. Right now its too easy to see the groups like the RIAA as money grubbing, lawsuit-happy mobsters. Blog posts like yours humanize the issue, but showing that many artists are actually in sympathy with the more reasonable arguments of the copyright reformers would be a powerful blow against those who feel self-righteous in their piracy.
There are some points that beg mentioning here. Eleanor is where we all were once, when we were reaching out to cover what seemed to be new ground and nothing could stand in the way. Except, others have been there before and the ground isn’t all that new.
Copyright, the right to make and disseminate copies is the right of the author and/or their agents. This right exists so that Eleanor, should she successfully achieve her dreams, would be protected and assured of rightful income in her adulthood.
Of course, her case is common enough: no dough, no recognition assuring her of sponsors. Perhaps her family feels this is something where she’s on her own and therefore won’t pony up the cash. But those are hardly reasons for violating your guaranteed form of income and committing theft. She does have recourse, she could plead with you directly to lay aside your right to compensation and ask for permission from you or your agent. That is fair and then an agreement might be cobbled.
The sad truth, copyright, necessary as it is, does create problems for performers and audiences. New music needs aggressive advocates. The most likely advocates are young and unlikely to command the resources of older, more conservative artists. Sadly, publishers, the primary adjudicators of copyrights, simply aren’t flexible enough to permit performances by those without deep pockets.
So, Jason, while I stand with you on this particular issue 100% (there are a whole slew of people ripping off creative artists in this digital age, and convinced that they have the right to steal artistic work), I wonder how greater access might be made for those in Eleanor’s position. For composers like, say, a Dieter Ammann or a Matt Sargent, writing music at the front edge of the avant garde, income is both generated by copyright guaranteed royalties and by recognition. Sadly, without the recognition, performances by convinced advocates, there is no hope for royalties.
Finally, Eleanor is full of the energy that got all of us in the arts where we are today. Later, that energy will be tempered, focused and set by her past. You and I need her while she is energized.
Regarding Fair Use, I think it covers preservation and personal use. The US Copyright Office specifies “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” It does not cover performance, etc.
“This website is not even technically illegal. Since the music is never actually uploaded onto the site and is sent via email from one user to another, I’m breaking no law by participating in it.”
This is exactly the same argument Pirate Bay. I quote The four defendants, known as The Pirate Bay Four, were accused of “assisting in making copyright content available” But argued that they never actually kept any content on thier servers.
Well argued Jason!
Interesting arguments and a fun read. Two things:
I could be wrong, but it seems your analogy of collecting Thornton Wilder first editions might be incorrect? I would think these editions come from used bookstores or collectors? If so, I don’t think any monies are going to the Wilder estate.
Second, your arguments, though correct, seem to be a losing battle and perhaps outdated. I think our energies as artists need to be more forward thinking in how to solve these copyright issues. I’m not sure we will ever be able to completely control “sharing” or “trading”. If trading and sharing will always happen then how can we be ahead of that problem? We can’t go backwards, it’s a reality. I think an answer to the question, “How else can we profit from works?” should have a modern solution. I’m not sure what that answer is but energies spent problem solving this issue might provide a new answer.
Yes, you are “right” and it is a problem but at this point it’s like prohibition: stopping it…won’t.
[FROM JRB: What can I tell you? I have only the fights available to me that I know how to fight, and this was one of them, and I think I’m fairly up front about its relative futility, that’s part of the point. I don’t spend a lot of time on it, to be honest – I think the time I’ve spent today responding to comments on this blog equals all the accumulated time I’ve spent dealing with it in my life up to now.]
This is completely ludicrous. Browbeating a young girl in this manner reflects so poorly on you and your position in this debate.
Do you realize how much better it would have been if you had just sent her a signed copy of the sheet music she was using.
She would have bragged about it to her friends, she would have become a life long fanatic of your work. She would have raised awareness about you as a composer in the telling of the story, brought your issue on the subject to light in a reasonable and friendly manner.
Here is a girl who wishes to make art. To use your work as inspiration, and in the process share your vision and creations with an audience who would not have otherwise been exposed to your work.
But instead, you chose to behave childishly, greedily, and petty.
You lost a big fight today. To a little girl.
[FROM JRB: We’re entitled to our own perspectives on this issue; mine is not the same as yours. I think I tried to educate her about a legal and ethical point she was either willfully or unknowingly ignorant of, and it remains to be seen whether I was successful.]
This post is fantastic. As for the complaints about the high price points for individual pieces of sheet music, I have an anecdote I would like to share.
I recently went to purchase the music for “Moving Too Fast” from L5Y off of an online sheet music site. After I had chosen the song, it gave me an option to purchase another one and receive a discount on the two. I ended up purchasing several more pieces of sheet music from multiple composers and musicals because the more I purchased, the greater the discount. So, in the end, you can still purchase a collection of songs where each one is at a discounted price. And because of technology, one can legally pick and choose the composers and pieces that make up this collection, and pay for every song. I would greatly encourage everyone who is looking for sheet music to buy in bulk from one site. The purchaser saves money, and the composer still gets paid.
Best of luck with your future endeavors!
This argument occurs quite frequently. One thing that I hear brought up often is that it does no harm if the person would not have bought it anyway, you can’t lose a sale you never had. Now, obviously “Eleanor” here is a fan and given supportive parents or whatever reason she cited, would probably purchase these. But say, I, a person who honestly did not know who you were until I looked you up on Wikipedia (after seeing this posted elsewhere), downloaded your sheet music out of the blue. I never would have purchased it, and therefore my “illegal” copy is of no consequence to you. I’d just like to know if you agree or disagree with that sentiment (I think I can guess, but I’d still like to hear). Also, the situation she describes has happened to me several times. I have heard a song (or several) on a site like YouTube (no doubt posted without the author’s consent) and then based on that, gone to see the artist or band live, and then purchased merchandise directly from them. So it is not implausible that it could happen through illegitimate means, whether or not it is supposed to. I also just think most major record companies cheat artists out of too much of their profit (see this article by Steve Albini – http://www.negativland.com/albini.html), so I just refuse to buy their product and support what I truly believe in.
[FROM JRB: It’s hard to know what income I may or may not be losing, since there’s no control group. And really, this is less about what one person does on that site than the simple fact that that site exists and essentially encourages activity of at best dubious legality. As for record companies cheating artists out of their money, of course they do, but outside of going to the artist’s house and paying him directly, I’m not sure what it is you propose as an alternative. Surely stealing the work without paying anything for it is not a better choice?]
It seems that in a different market, those who pirate would not pay otherwise. Do you think this is different in your market?
[FROM JRB: Again, I have no opinion on it because there’s no way to know the answer. We can postulate, but it’s all empty dialogue.]
My friend wanted to borrow a screwdriver, and I have a machine that makes an infinite supply of screwdrivers at no cost so, uh…
[FROM JRB: At no cost to whom?]
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