Open letter to UE's shareholders

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Open letter to UE's shareholders

Postby dolhuis » Tue Oct 23, 2007 11:06 am

Hi all. I am, or rather was, an anonymous user of IMSLP. I signed up for the forums to share with you my observations about Universal Editions (UE). Don't know in which thread they would fit, so I post them here. Disclaimer: thankfully I'm not a lawyer.

This is what I'd like to say to UE's shareholders

If I was a shareholder in UE and I would have followed the on-line publicity about this case, I would be really worried. Not about the public outrage, if that's what it is, or about the documented individual cases of boycotting UE. Those will only make a little dent in doing business, if they will do so at all. I would be worried because appearantly somewhere in the organization is someone with enough executive power to make and follow through policies, but who doesn't understand Internet, customers and doing business. That threatens a company far more than any public outrage or boycott can.

Of course I need to elaborate on that :-)

In any field -- from encyclopedial knowledge to mundane webcam clips -- Internet will form solid repositories of public domain material, it is breathtakingly good at that. Having a phenomenal repository of public domain music scores is just a matter of time. Any of these public domain repositories will in the long run take up the maximum legally allowed amount of materials. That also is just a matter of time. It might take some negotiation or legal cases to define the borders of 'maximum legally allowed,' but it will happen. Knowing that about Internet is vitally important if you are in the publishing business, especially if you work with material that can live for such a long time that it still is interesting when in public domain, like music sheets.

There is a strange fact about customers: they are willing to pay for services rendered. You don't need to extort them, force them to fork their money over, they are glad to pay [1]. Downside is of course that they tend to want most value for money, and feel ripped off if they fail to see they get any. Even if there are some ragged ends to the fabric of customerhood, where individual customers try to take more than is reasonable, the over all disposition of customers is benevolent towards business.

Doing business is providing added value and charge for it. What added value is, is determined by the eco-system in which you do business. Anything that hinders the creation of added value is bad for business, anything that hinders charging is bad for business, doing anything against the grain of the eco-system is bad for business (selling ice-cones on the north-pole, doesn't bring in the big bucks.)

How does UE come into play?

One aspect of the music-sheet eco-system is the fact that there will be one day a phenomenal repository of public domain music scores, with the 'maximum legally allowed' amount of materials. Trying to change that, is trying to push a glacier back up the mountain. It will be there, part of the eco-system, and it will be important. Ensure you take this into account to the fullest, when you are making decisions about doing business in this eco-system.

Where there might be a seemingly, but only seemingly, strategically important issue for UE, is in the definition of 'maximum legally allowed,' having the border for that just redrawn a little bit might change the amount of UE-scores in that repository. But if you take a closer look, and take the general benevolant nature of customers into account, as well as the international copyright laws, UE doesn't have a lot to gain:

Even if the end point of legal matters might be that IMSLP is allowed to publish scores on their Canadian server, that are in Canadian PD, even if they are not in European PD, and that they are not forced to ban European IP addresses (ie. if UE lost), then Europeans can only download that for personal/study purposes, and only if their national copyright laws would allow that, or they would be liable under European law (not under Canadian, so don't bother them).

When they want to do anything with it, teach or perform, or anything, european copyrights kick in, and they are obliged to purchase the original materials, and the past has shown -- illustrated by several accounts in these forums, but also in other fields -- that they will (even just for the heck of having it, when you won't even use it in performance or teaching.) It's important to note that the same goes for sheets not downloaded from IMSLP but for instance borrowed from friends or libraries, they can be copied, but not used to teach or perform. And the same goes for buying stuff in Canada and the US that is PD there, but not in Europe. This practice wil not change even when IMSLP is brought down completely, which probably won't be the case.

What remains is the possibility that some scores are not in PD, even in Canada or US. And of course UE has a fair point there. But how they dealt with that showed a big lack of insight into business and customers.

What coud have been done better by UE?

IMSLP is a great initiative, you could call it the leader on the path to the creation of that phenomenal repository of public domain music sheets that one day will be. As I imagine it, a beautifull place where great amounts of music-sheet customers will dwell, they really will. It will need to honor copyrights to have a trouble-free existence and therefore a well-oiled procedure to remove scores from the repository when notified, and certified, that a score is not in the public domain.

It will be a repository where all the important PD scores can be studied and long forgotten scores are being rediscovered. A process, if monitored, that not only gives vital information on which composers and music are popular (in the same way record companies monitored P2P sharing to adjust their marketing,) so that you can make the right decisions when you need to choose a score for reprinting. But also rediscovery will trigger teaching and performing of rediscovered works, and therefore will trigger demand for original sheets.

When trying to have scores removed that are not in Canadian or US public domain (and when trying to define borders of 'legally allowed:' does a Canadian server need to block European IP addresses) UE was thinking with it's litigation cap on. It didn't take eco-system, customers and businesses into account, it even neglected it's own position amongst the competition. When the decision was made to do something about their scores in IMSLP, UE didn't turn it into a competitive advantage, but to a disadvantage. They will take a stick for trying to define the borders of what is legally allowed and what not. It will cost UE goodwill and money, and even if they score a little victory, every competitor in the field profits from that, and only UE wil pay the costs.

They choose to spend money on lawyers interrupting their customers from getting to where they wanted to go [2], instead of spending money on programmers helping their customers (yes, coinciding with 'users of IMSLP') and helping to assure in the same time that no US/Canadian copyrighted material is present on the servers of IMSLP, something that must be, and I'm sure is, a shared goal between UE and IMSLP.

If they were not litigative, but creative and business-like, they could have, for less money than they lost now, become the maecenas of IMSLP, reaping competitive awards from people looking for original materials after download, insight into popularity of composers to ensure the right decisions in reprinting, and hell, maybe even the right to offer links to on-line shops for their material. They could even help bringing stuff on-line: having a place where people can see pdf's of the part of UE's PD-catalog which they currently cannot see and cannot buy is a great trigger for selling materials UE never dreamt of selling anymore. And, maybe, UE could have gotten the ban on European IP's for the downloads of non-EU-PD scores in the process. Now they will only get it if a Canadian judge will grant it, which I think is a far slimmer change.

UE: it's not wise to harm the progress of the creation of an enormous on-line repository of public-domain music sheets, it will be there with or without you. And it will be the single biggest gathering place of your customers. You have the chance to be part of it and reap a competitive advantage. Be creative. Don't spend bags of money to spread negative energy, breaking things. Build things. And profit.

Read well: I don't say UE has no right to protect their interests, or the interests of the composers and estates they represent. I think only that with the chosen path they fail to do so admirably. And they hurt a lot of people and initiatives in the progress. Not good for business, that.


[1] So even selling something that can be obtained for free is a valid business model, Dover shows that. Printing, binding and distributing is enough added value to be paid for selling something "you do not own".

[2] This phrasing is deliberate: "We want to find a way to enhance the experience and services, rather than looking for a way to interrupt people from getting to where they want to go," said Stefan Olander, global director for brand connections at Nike." NY Times
UE-executives, go read it!


This text may be distributed freely, as long as you mention the source. If by some kind of miracle this text attributes to a successfull cooperation between IMSLP and any music publisher that recognizes the possibilities and rises to the occasion, I'd like to be invited to the party :-)

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Postby Josef » Tue Oct 23, 2007 1:19 pm

A fine advice. There are still some sad-school-managers around who prefer hindering to helping.
In this case, though, even the hindering will help. IMSLP that is. But at what costs, indeed.

I would really love to see IMSLP and UE (and/or other publishers) cooperate the way you explained above (as suggested by Witold and others as well in other threads).

Btw. I'm not one of the UE shareholders, just another composer publishing his works by IMSLP and Ricordi (Munich).

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