There’s a rising surge of anger among composers and musicians at the decision by Edward Guo, owner of IMSLP, to put the works they have stored in his site behind a paywall.
IMSLP, founded in 2006, is a wiki-type resource for music scores and recordings. According to its Wikipedia entry, the site carries over 300,000 scores and 35,000 recordings for over 93,000 works by over 12,000 composers.
That’s some database, and until now it has been free to access.
But on December 27, in the dead holiday period, the resourceful Mr Guo introduced a subscription model that restricts access to the website. Unless you a $22.80 yearly subscription you will have to wait 15 seconds before you are allowed to view a file – even if it is a file that you yourself own and uploaded. Fifteen seconds can seem like an eternity when all you want to do is check a bassoon part in a copyright-free Tchaikovsky symphony.
Regular users are telling us they won’t visit the site again.
Here’s the owner’s explanation:
As some of you may have noticed, there have been a few changes to IMSLP over the past few days, including the new logo. In addition to those changes, there is one more major change that will be implemented shortly, and about which I would like to give a bit more background.
I’ve had some fairly extensive discussions with music librarians and IMSLP contributors recently, and I’ve been thinking about a few of the issues raised, especially with respect to preservation and sustainability. Librarians are growing increasingly worried about these issues, and after some consideration I agree with their concerns. In particular, as IMSLP grows bigger, more complex and more engrained into the fabric of the classical music community, it now seems necessary to think hard about the future and how we can sustain IMSLP for centuries to come.
This is especially true with respect to funding. I have so far largely avoided discussing this topic in public because the income we receive from various sources have been enough to maintain the site so far, but I increasingly believe that this level of funding is not sustainable in the long run. We are not, like traditional music libraries, bound by the service of a conservatory, university or publisher, but rather can do things that traditional institutions are not willing to do, because we serve only musicians and music lovers. But everything is a tradeoff – we also do not have the funding infrastructure these traditional institutions have, and over the past few years I’ve frankly exhausted my imagination in searching for new realistic sources of funding for IMSLP.
And so I will announce here that a subscription system for IMSLP will be put in place. But this will not be a traditional subscription model – in particular, no file will be blocked from access by the public. Rather, a subscription will permit a member to download files without having to wait a certain number of seconds, eliminiate some of the advertising on the site, and a few other benefits. I see this as a way to both preserve IMSLP’s philosophy of open access and to secure IMSLP’s future.
But IMSLP is a volunteer effort, and we recognize the time and work put into the site by IMSLP’s most active and prolific contributors. For this purpose, all existing users who have more than a certain number of edits will be granted an automatic 10-year subscription, and new contributors who contribute a certain amount of quality work will also earn free subscriptions.
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