Jason Robert Brown had an exchange with a teen about copyright issues and taking his music for free. With her permission he posted the exchanges they had. I think everyone who “borrows” or “trades” music should read it. I doubt it’ll change the minds of every thief … um … I mean trader … but perhaps some will begin to understand.

Here’s something to entice you, by the young trader of music that is not her own:

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?

Sigh. Grumble. Scream.


  1. So here’s the thing: Copyright protects, but it also hinders (very like musicians’ unions, but that is a rant for another day). I mean, as much as JRB has every right to ask that his music not be traded, it is a tiiiiny bit unfair for Ms. Eleanor/Brenna to be disallowed access to art because she *can’t afford it* – and also to be mocked and derided for wanting it! For many people, including myself, the pricetag is the biggest deterrent to so much art. And why is it okay that money gets to define what I’m legally allowed to listen to or perform, anyway? Say a student tries to live musically inside a teeny-tiny budget like I remember having in high school (and, to a certain extent, university) – you can’t buy many recordings (maybe like…a few a year), you can’t afford sheet music, you basically have to survive off what you can borrow from friends (although even that is technically illegal, right?), and absorb through visits to the library (short periods of time, sporadically), and through free media like the radio (content not chosen by the listener).

    This is not a musically rich life, this is not conducive to artistic or creative growth. For people whose parents don’t support their passions, it (pardon my crudity) SUCKS.

    I’m finding increasingly that the younger artists are open to this concept of “share and share alike” – Creative Commons – and I think it is brilliant brilliant! THE FUTURE. The idea that if you give someone something for free, it is going to help you in the long run: both by opening up the possibility that someone *is* going to support your work financially when they can afford to do so, and by encouraging publicity (the more people who listen, the more people who perform, the more people who listen, the more people who might later on support). There are artists – visual, musical, etc – who make a living off of this approach! It isn’t wealth, but it is a real living, and it is accessible to people of all budget ranges.

    Scenario: When I was in high school, I fell in love with an artist at a family-oriented concert that my parents took me to. I didn’t have a job, I did not get an allowance, when you are in high school this works. My parents, while supportive of my artistic endeavours, did not have the money to buy me this artist’s recordings. I worked out *all kinds* of ways to be able to listen to the music over and over – I had a cassette tape recording of a single song played on a radio show which I duplicated through very complicated cassette tape means so I could listen to it over and over again, play along with it, learn the words…you know? Serious passion for this music. Eventually I acquired the recording through means that would be defined as illegal, and I continued to enjoy it. Since that time, many years ago, I have bought all of that artist’s albums – some in all of iTunes, CD, and vinyl formats – scores, t-shirts, concert tickets, and gone on to buy the work of artists he recommends through interviews and message boards.

    It is logical to support someone that is making things that you love so that they can keep making them – so I do it whenever I can! But I also think it is ILlogical to limit the art one can enjoy by how deep one’s pockets are.

    Anyway, perhaps it is an idealistic way of thinking – it’s certainly not a commercial train – but I think it has some merit, I think that Jason Robert Brown is kind of a jerk in that blog, and I am excited for a Creative Commons future. Utopia awaits!

  2. Okay … $3.99 and the kid can’t afford it. Give me a break!

    But meanwhile, stealing is stealing. If something is under copyright law, copying is stealing. If folks don’t like it, then those folks can offer up their stuff for free.

    I didn’t think he was a jerk at all. Shows our age diff, eh? (Somehow I have a feeling you and I would have a lot of conflict should we meet in real life, except that I’m wimpy so I’d just shut up about it.)

    Utopia is unattainable. Sorry. Ain’t gonna happen. And there will always be thieves. I just want them to admit that they are thieves rather than making the person they’ve stolen from appear to be the one in the wrong.

    But really, it’s pointless to argue this with someone who isn’t making a living in the biz. If a person who is surviving as a musician while giving it all away wants to jump in and comment that would make more sense to me.

  3. Well, I don’t make a living in the business, but the argument that you can’t afford 3.99 for music but he or she LOVES the music, sounds both manipulative and immature. You can bet if the roles were reversed, he or she would fight tooth and nail for their royalty–as well they should. Oh, God. I know the type. “I love your music, so give it to me.”

  4. And another composer has the same issue.

    I know some writers who suggested that music should be free. They felt that copying CDs should be legal. They thought that music is a gift that should be shared.

    I asked if they minded if I copied their books to hand out to friends.

    “THAT’S different!” they said.

    Um. Right.

  5. As far as the 3.99 goes: via PayPal, which requires either a credit card (which not everyone has) or specific certification through a bank account – also which not everyone has – especially kids. And physical sheet music can cost quite a lot, and shipping, and again: how will one pay for it?

    Anyway, you’re right! I’m not making a living “in the biz” so it is completely possible, even likely, that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Either way, I’m going to cling to my Youthful Idealism for as long as I can and Believe The Best Of People.

  6. There’s a piece of this that has to do with the economies of scale. It’s one thing when you copy some sheet music from a friend, or from the library, instead of buying it. Technically, that’s illegal, but it’s on such a small scale that its effect is minimal, and I would be very surprised if Mr. Brown never did this at any point in his musical development.

    However, it’s another thing altogether when the music is available on a public website and can be downloaded from anyone, anywhere. In theory, pulling it off a website is no different than copying it from a friend, but in reality it makes a big difference in how much sheet music is actually bought. It’s possible that only one person would need to purchase it and suddenly it’s available to anyone in the world.

    I don’t think Mr. Brown is necessarily insisting that every single person that plays his song for any reason must purchase their own copy (again, I’d be surprised if he never played from a photocopy), but he is asking that his scores not be open for trade on web sites. That doesn’t strike me as unreasonable for someone trying to earn a living from their music.

    That said, the world is definitely changing and no one really knows where any of this is going. It may be that folks like Mr. Brown may have to embrace the idea of making his music more freely available, but we, as consumers of music, should consider that if we insist on getting all our music for free, we may make it harder for artists to devote themselves to music full-time. Is that OK? I don’t really know – time will tell.

  7. My poor students are required to purchase their music if they study a work with me. No copies allowed. Period. I won’t play off of copies. Period. Should the law change, or should a composer say, “Please play off of copies,” I’ll be fine with it. The main thing, for me, is that it’s a law. So I don’t break it. (But yeah, I set my cruise control on the speed limit too. I’m that boring.)

    I think we should be able to post YouTube videos of our opera and symphony performances. But the union says no, so I obey that. At the same time I’m happy to fight for change. I think the YouTube rule needs to be altered.

    So yeah, the world is changing. And I’m okay with that. I’d still prefer, though, to make my living at what I do best! IF I suddenly found out that my career was not going to pay enough I’d have to find a new career. I can’t imagine that the quality of my performance would remain at it not-as-good-as-it-should-be level (man, I wish I were a better and more disciplined musician!). I think that the quality of most music would decline.

    But I’m just a “B” player making a “B” living. Maybe I am rambling on when silence would be better. Dunno!

    For me the bottom line is the whole stealing/law thing. I can’t help myself. I just like following those darn laws. Geesh, I am the Most Boring Girl In The World.

  8. As JRB points out, one can buy a Visa cash card at retail outlets and use that like a credit card in online transactions. She has a cell phone, so apparently she has more than $3.99 in her pocket.

    And somehow, long before the internet, young aspiring artists managed to grow musically without free unauthorized access to sheet music.

  9. Yep, dk.

    I wish that people would be more honest. Rather than saying, “I can’t afford $3.99,” just state the truth: “I don’t want to pay for music. I think it should be free for no reason other than I don’t want to pay for it.” At least that would be honest, eh?

  10. An intriguing moral question, Patty. Glad you posted it.

    I read the whole thread (2 days of my free time) and it seems that in the long term it comes down to whether easy access makes it OK, and does my need to have the part overcome your need to be paid for your efforts.

    On the one hand, I have no problem with copying a difficult passage from a part I’m playing if it’s not already in the excerpt books, but the assertion that it makes life better for everyone to download complete scores from unofficial sites ignores the fact that the composer is part of ‘everyone’. This defeats the argument.

    I’m completely on JRB’s side on this one.

  11. When first reading about the blog my sister is featured in, I was stuck… As her brother I should take her side but as a composer I should be completely against what she is doing. It made me sit down and think about both sides of the argument. My conclusion is quite simple: Both are correct and both are wrong.

    I agree with JRB about copyright laws prohibiting it, protecting one’s own work, etc. but some do not have a choice. The problem lies in that many composers think of this as an insult when really it is a compliment. Because music has evolved to be harder, and more impressive, it is also harder to obtain as there is more of it. Yes, it is very wrong to download it and only use it for personal gain, such as a concert that makes money, or a public performance.

    I do recall that copyright laws are a bit grey in the area that is education. From what I understand with “fair use” and all that, is if it is for educational purposes… then it is not illegal. In that light, Brenna (Eleanor is her middle name, for some reason she does not like to go by her first name) is not wrong in HER use of it. She was wrong sharing it with those who might not have used it for education, but she always does.

    Some forget that even though copyright laws protect the composer there are certain instances that do not need the expressed permission of the rights holder.

    Then again, I’m not lawyer I might be wrong…

    As a composer, educator, business owner, and performer, I always agree that copyright laws should be followed, but do not think that everyone who seems to be breaking them are actually breaking them. I do agree something has to be done with websites that make it easy for those who are not in school, using the copies for personal gain, to access them. Shutting down these websites though will only make things worse and make the culprits try even harder to access said works of art/literature. Maybe instead, people that are against such acts of illegality should push to have a username and password instituted so that the website must confirm the individual IS actually a student such as how Facebook did back when it first started up (you had to have a “.edu” email to sign up).

    That’s just my view though.
    -Aaron Safer

  12. The education clause is tricky. Schools are not allowed to make copies of music and call it legal. Nor are churches. Those are the two groups that, from what I’ve read, are the biggest breakers of copyright law. My husband, a college instructor, knows all about the law and perhaps he’ll join in here. (Dan, are you there?) It’s something about “one time use — as in one class period — but you can’t use something over and over.

    Does the law need to change? Maybe. I’m really not sure. But as long as it’s the law, I say we are obligated to stick to it. I don’t think we get to pick and choose which laws we are bound to follow.

    I’ll stop now. I appreciate your joining in. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Or something.