Sheet Music Sharing

While most of the discussion of online music sharing has focused on P2P sharing of MP3 encodings of sound recordings, there is also a scene sharing copies of copyrighted sheet music. Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown decided to take a stand by registering for one of the most popular sheet music swapping sites and asking people trading copies of his sheet music online to stop, with casual, friendly, personal e-mails. He had an exchange with one teenager who wants copies of Brown’s music without having the means to buy it online: Fighting With Teenagers: A Copyright Story

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.

The entire exchange is interesting.
Here is an example of the exact type of creator that copyright law should be protecting — a younger composer still creating works. By having income generated by his copyrighted works, through the sale of sheet music, licensing performances and recordings, it encourages Brown to continue composing and creating more, since he can focus on creating, rather than a day job.
Reposting copyrighted sheet music online doesn’t fall into a copyright grey area, it’s simple straightforward infringement.
Is this a generational divide? As the first generation to grow up with the internet, are today’s teenagers just used to taking information freely off of the internet?
David Pogue shares a letter from MIT Media Lab’s Michael Hawley, who has compliled 15 gigabytes worth of scans of scores. Hawley writes, “I play the piano. Over the years, I have collected 15,000 piano scores in PDF form, covering about 400 years of classical keyboard works. It’s like lint in the drier of the Internet. Much of it is not available anywhere for purchase, or even findable in libraries for circulation. Max Reger’s arrangement for two pianos of Wagner’s overture, for instance? Well, the Max Reger Institute in Karlsruhe, Germany has a copy…”
Assuming that most of these are old scores, this is an entirely different issue. It is not piracy or copyright infringement. If these scores are in the public domain, there’s no copyright infringement to scan and publish them online. If students need access to scores, an internet archive of public domain scores are all perfectly legal to host and publish.
Of course, some of these scores may be of works that are out of print, but still protected by copyright. In that case, it’s an orphan works issue, which gets into the more interesting gray areas of copyright law.
And finally, there’s the issue of transcriptions of songs, which we last discussed in 2006 with relation to guitar tabs: Everything Old is New Again, in Bb.

Teaching Copyright

According to the program’s web site, Music Rules is “a free educational program designed to encourage respect for intellectual property and responsible use of the Internet among students in grades 3-8.”
At Ars Technica, Nate Anderson takes a look at the curriculum, which happens to be sponsored by the RIAA, Back to school with RIAA-funded copyright curriculum: “If this sounds more like ‘propaganda’ than ‘education,’ that’s probably because Big Content funds such educational initiatives to decrease what it variously refers to in these curricula as ‘songlifting,’ ‘bootlegging,’ and ‘piracy.”
I tend to think that copyright basics are part of the discussion about information literacy, plagarism and general internet skills that should be taught as part of teaching in the digital age, as copyright is not just recordings, but also text, images and movies.

Cultivating Online Personas

In New York Magazine, Rex Sorgatz lays out a few simple steps for finding internet fame, The Microfame Game and The New Rules of Internet Celebrity — New York Magazine: “It’s easy to be cynical about this new class of celebrity. The lines between empowerment and self-promotion, between sharing and oversharing, between community and cliques, can be blurry. You can judge for yourself whether the following microcelebs represent naked ambition, talent justly discovered, or genius marketing. The point is that renown is no longer the exclusive province of a select few. Nano-celebrity is there for the taking, if you really want it.”
While some personalities seek out internet fame, others have it unwittingly thrust upon them.
At Concurring Opinions, Deven Desai asks, Do We Need an Internet Ed. Class?
“Internet Ed. at an early stage might address the possible generation gap in understanding what is privacy and how the Internet works. Like driving, using the Internet can open up tremendous possibilities for fun and for work. Like driving, irresponsible or uninformed Internet use can lead to undesired consequences. Like driving, horror stories of how a picture from a drunken party ruined someone’s job prospects may not deter irresponsible Internet behaviors across the board. Still, by setting out the way in which irresponsible or immature behaviors such as sharing too much information about one’s personal life, not checking about how a site uses personal financial information, and childish rants can affect one’s life, people would have some sense of the possible repercussions of their acts.”
I agree that education about how to avoid undesired online notoriety (or maintaining personal privacy) is important, but only half of an “internet ed” class– the other half is on information literacy– the skills of finding reputable sources of information and assessing the quality of sources and channels. This includes not only sources of academic research, but also e-commerce sites and social networking sites.

Teaching Copyright and Info Literacy

William Patry takes a look at some “non-partisan” copyright groups educational materials: The Patry Copyright Blog: Non-profit, non-partisan education in copyright: “It would be sad indeed if a balanced educational plan for copyright was unachievable, especially where there is a will to develop one.”
As Patry discusses, the copyright debate is not partisan in the traditional sense– it is not a Democratic-Republican party issue. Rather, it is partisan among the various interest groups, with the public interest often never considered in policy-making, or often relegated to just another special interest.
But, that’s a topic for another post.
This raises the question of how and when copyright should be taught to students. In the increasingly wired and creative classroom, Copyright is something that will come up as students scour the internet to download photos, videos and music to use in their school projects and presentations.
But at the same time, issues of plagarism/attribution, information literacy and ascertaining the veracity of sources also arise. For today’s students, web research and vetting sources should probably be taught along with basic copyright principles.
What needs to be taught in an introduction to information literacy and intellectual property curriculum? When is the best time to start to teach it? Elementary school? Middle School? High School?

Criticism 2.0?

With the rise of bloggers into the mainstream media, critics of blogging, like Andrew Keen, worry that amateurism is destroying culture and that the blogosphere is a bunch of silly “user-generated nonsense.”
The problem with blogs giving voices to otherwise unpublished critics and commentators is that these critics are not working with the same thoroughness as the professional critics working for the mainstream media.
Adam Roberts’ The Amateur Gourmet is an entertaining food blog about restaurants and cooking. Roberts even converted the blog into a book deal. But the Amateur Gourmet notes the difference between the amateur restaurant critics and the professionals, Going Back: “Obviously, food bloggers don’t have the resources that professional critics do. We don’t have a newspaper picking up the tab when we go out to eat, it’d be impossible for most of us to eat our way through a menu without spending half our savings. So we go, our cameras in tow, and snap pictures of the two or three dishes we consume at this one meal and then scurry back to our computers to write it up.” After revisiting a restaurant he previously “reviewed,” Roberts finds that his initial impression didn’t quite capture the inconsistency of one Park Slope eatery.
If he reviewed after each time he went, then Roberts might ahve presented a more complete view of the restaurant. But readers can get this more complete view by using the web to search for multiple amateur and blogger positions.
The problem with Web 2.0/the blogosphere/UGC is not that it gives any idiot a voice. Rather, it shifts the burden of creating an overall final opinion from the publisher to the reader. Reading many reviews of bloggers who each visit a restaurant once may provide a more complete impression of a restaurant than one canonical review by a professional reviewer. Reading a selection of film reviews at Rotten Tomatoes can present a more complete impression than just reading Roger Ebert’s review. But the reader has the burden of filtering out idiocy shifts from the editor to the reader.
With readers who know how to properly evaluate the credibility and veracity of reviews, the aggregation of internet reviews can provide a fuller picture than the traditional, Keen-preferred, media. But for those in the media elite, the traditional model gives their voice more weight, and it is preferred.
But even in the blogosphere, a good reviewer carries more weight than some amateur. This is the basis of Google’s PageRank– that Roger Ebert’s links are given more weight and authority than Joe Blow movie reviewer. For restaurants, there will always be a need for localism. But will the internet affect off the television and movie reviews in local newspapers? Do readers need to read their local movie critic if they can go on the web and read reviews from Roger Ebert and Elvis MItchell? Or does it help smaller newspapers attract top critics? If Alan Sepinwall has a larger online profile because of his excellent blog as opposed to his work for the Star Ledger, doesn’t that help the Star Ledger. Perhaps critics who develop their reputation online are becoming more sought after– that a small town paper can raise its profile by hiring a top critic or columnist– and that moving to an outlet that’s not the NYT, WSJ or Washington Post might not be detrimental.

Transparent Wikipedia

John Borland, Wired, See Who’s Editing Wikipedia – Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign: “On November 17th, 2005, an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted 15 paragraphs from an article on e-voting machine-vendor Diebold, excising an entire section critical of the company’s machines. While anonymous, such changes typically leave behind digital fingerprints offering hints about the contributor, such as the location of the computer used to make the edits.”
The data is available to search at List anonymous wikipedia edits from interesting organizations.
How do you properly attribute authorship to a collective work? Or does that go against the wiki-ethos, even if it means that articles are less likely to have a “neutal viewpoint.” If the Wikimedia Foundation ever needs to raise money, it could auction the rights “last edits” for articles for a certain period of time to the highest bidder. If such biased edits were published with attribution, those astroturf articles might be more honest and attributable sources than the more subtly biased “neutral viewpoint” articles.
This anecdote from law student blogger Above Supra perfectly captures the problem with Wikipedia as a source. DIY Sources:

“The other day I was working on my draft of an amicus brief. I had to begin by explaining some fundamentals of the internet, such as describing the difference between a static and dynamic IP address (I’ve changed the facts to protect the innocent). I’ve read cases where the judge footnoted to a Wikipedia article, so I checked out the Wiki definition of the terms I wanted to use. As it happened, the definitions didn’t adequately cover the issue.
“What did I do? Naturally, I signed into my Wiki account and edited the entry. Only then did the absurdity of citing to a ‘customizable source’ hit home.
“Needless to say, I didn’t use Wikipedia as a source for the brief.”

In a 2006 paper, Ken Myers discusses fitting Wikipedia into the ยง230 safe harbor, Wikimmunity: Fitting the Communications Decency Act to Wikipedia: “In the wake of the Seigenthaler biography controversy, many commentators suggested that Wikipedia should be able to escape liability for defamatory content pursuant to the immunity provided for in 47 U.S.C. Section 230(c)(1), enacted by Congress as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Unfortunately, those commentators do not provide a detailed roadmap to that conclusion.”


Something Awful: The Art of Wikigroaning: “First, find a useful Wikipedia article that normal people might read. For example, the article called “Knight.” Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we’ll go with “Jedi Knight.” Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well concepts are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created. Are you looking yet? Get a good, long look. Yeah. Yeeaaah, we know, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.”
For example, compare:

  • Dept. of Homeland Security with Homestar Runner
  • Henry VIII with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
  • Hammurabi with Emperor Palpatine
  • Is there an inverse relationship between actual importance of a subject and the thoroughness of that’s subject’s Wikipedia article? Perhaps that is why Wikipedia can be so much fun to read and yet ultimately useless for real research.
    Does this occur because important subjects are already studied in-depth in books and scholarly journals, while there is no equivalent place to publish in-depth studies of pop culture?
    Do people who study important subjects not have the time to write for Wikipedia, while the people who do have the time to have their material get anonymized into the giant Wiki blob are more concerned with ephemera?

Citing to Wikipedia in School and in Court

Inside Higher Ed: A Stand Against Wikipedia: “While plenty of professors have complained about the lack of accuracy or completeness of entries, and some have discouraged or tried to bar students from using it, the history department at Middlebury College is trying to take a stronger, collective stand. It voted this month to bar students from citing the Web site as a source in papers or other academic work. All faculty members will be telling students about the policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia — while convenient — may not be trustworthy.”
The New York Times: Courts Turn to Wikipedia, but Selectively: “A simple search of published court decisions shows that Wikipedia is frequently cited by judges around the country, involving serious issues and the bizarre — such as a 2005 tax case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals concerning the definition of ‘beverage’ that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, just this week, a case in Federal District Court in Florida that involved the term ‘booty music’ as played during a wet T-shirt contest.”
While universities are discouraging undergraduates from citing to Wikipedia, courts are more frequently relying on the site. Undergrad students are expected to be researching from primary sources, not from encyclopedias. So, just like the Encyclopedia Britannica should not be cited in a university level term paper, neither should Wikipedia. But in court? Wikipedia should be considered a valid citation for those facts that are considered to be common knowledge, obvious, or where no better citation can be found, such as for booty music.

Long Tail, Decline of Filters, Information Literacy

In Salon today, Farhad Manjoo applies Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory to news: Chasing tail. While Anderson’s book is concerned only with the business implications that come from the ability to sell lots of niche products, Manjoo considers the web’s ability to connect citizens with niche newspapers, magazines and partisan blogs to be part of the same phenomenon.

Unlimited choice and easy access shake the world in unpredictable ways, causing people to splinter along the lines of niches they enjoy, and sometimes to lose touch with the world beyond. Today it’s possible to stop reading newspapers and instead get all your news from the Fox News channel — indeed, this is something many millions have done.… To put it another way, I worry about the filters. Because the long tail has everything in it, the only way to find anything useful there is by using some kind of filter.

The web allows for a democratization of information, which, in turn, creates the need for more information literacy. In other (less annoyingly pretentious) terms, the fact that it’s cheap to publish on the internet puts a great deal of biased, incomplete or simply wrong information on the same level as balanced, thorough and authoritative information. Individual citizens, students and researchers need to be more attentive to sources and details when sifting through such information and spend more time verifying and fact checking claims.
Where in pre-internet environment, a number of filters sat between crackpot theories and a researcher. Those filters (reporters, publishers, librarians) still help to judge accuracy and reliability, but the unfiltered internet makes it easy to find the unfiltered and unreliable and individuals now need to have the skills to determine what is credible and what is not.
On the other hand, sometimes more filters can distort the truth. editor Scott Rosenberg discusses the difference between blogs and comments at his personal blog, Wordyard: Lanny Davis, bile, and the distinction between “blog” and “comments”: “The simple distinction between the proprietor of a site — the ‘blogger’ — and the poster of comments is being forgotten or deliberately ignored here to score a political point.… In open online environments, it simply makes no sense to hold the publisher/blogger/site owner responsible for every opinion, attitude and flame that visitors post. If that’s where we’re headed, we might as well just shut down the Net and go home.”
47 USC §230 provides a “safe harbor” for the hosts of online forums (such as blog comment pages), so that the publishers are not considered the publisher or speaker of comments posted by unrelated third parties. Of course, although the law exempts site owners from liability, it does not prevent unwitting or unscrupulous commentators from attributing to a site owner the words of an unrelated comment poster.
Previously: Information Literacy


On Monday’s Colbert Report, Stephen discussed the Wikipedia process in The Wørd segment (“Wikiality”):

Last week, The New Yorker published an article on Wikipedia: Know it All: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise? “Wikipedia remains a lumpy work in progress. The entries can read as though they had been written by a seventh grader: clarity and concision are lacking; the facts may be sturdy, but the connective tissue is either anemic or absent; and citation is hit or miss.”
The New Yorker article goes to the information literacy critique of Wikipedia. On a macro level, Wikipedia has generally good rate of accuracy (at least if we were thinking of it as a baseball batting average.) But Wikipedia has a far lower level of accuracy for any individual fact.
At Freedom to Tinker, David Robinson contemplates: The New Yorker Covers Wikipedia “When reading Wikipedia, one has to react to surprising claims by entertaining the possibility that they might not be true. The less plausible a claim sounds, the more skepticism one must have when considering it.”
The Onion’s take is (as usual) dead on: Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence: “Wikipedia, the online, reader-edited encyclopedia, honored the 750th anniversary of American independence on July 25 with a special featured section on its main page Tuesday.”
Marshall Poe, in The Atlantic Monthly, thinks that the hive mind works well: The Hive: “Can thousands of Wikipedians be wrong? How an attempt to build an online encyclopedia touched off history’s biggest experiment in collaborative knowledge.”
ikkyu2, a neurologist and contributor to Wikipedia articles on neurology cogently discusses Wikipedia’s expert problem: What’s Wrong with Wikipedia: “I still like the Wikipedia, but not as an encyclopedia. It’s just an enjoyable, relaxing way to fool around and waste some time; enjoyable for its own sake, but not useful as a finished product. I would never recommend it to my patients nor to anyone else as a source of reliable information.”
Windy City Mike: Why I Quit Wikipedia “The problem is: Wikipedia believes truth derives from consensus. It doesn’t. Pablum derives from consensus; popular belief derives from consensus. And if you’re lucky, the least offensive common denominator of the truth derives from consensus.…Wikipedia articles do not represent truth; they represent popular consensus.”
Anil Dash looks at Wikipedia through the spectrum of community governance: Antipedia: “The real issue is that Wikipedia is a not-so-small community of people, facing the same challenges of governance, accountability, and policing that any community this size would face. I can’t help but think that most of these issues arise because Wikipedia essentially runs with the equivalent of a Declaration of Independence but no Constitution.”
Previously: The Problem with Wikipedia (Apr. 19)
Wikipedia and Authority (Dec. 19, 2005)
Wikipedia Woes (Dec. 16, 2005)