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International Music Score Library Project: humanity’s musical treasures freely available

International Music Score Library Project, public domain imageThe International Music Score Library Project, a Web site founded five years ago by a conservatory student, then 19 years old, has made a vast expanse of musical treasures available for free. This public domain repertory of classical music includes Beethoven piano sonatas, Schubert songs, Mozart symphonies, and much more: by simply following the example of Google Books and Project Gutenberg it has grown to be one of the largest sources of scores anywhere.

As reported by the New York Times, the IMSLP website is an open-source repository that uses the Wikipedia template and philosophy, “a visual analogue of a normal library,” in the words of its founder, Edward W. Guo, the former conservatory student. Volunteers scan in scores or import them from other sources, like Beethoven House, the museum and research institute in Bonn, Germany. Other users oversee copyright issues and perform maintenance. Quality control — like catching missed pages — is also left to the public. “It’s completely crowd sourced,” Mr. Guo said.

Despite legal attacks from some music publishers about possible copyright infringements (Universal Edition threatened a cease-and-desist order against the site for copyright violations in October 2007), the site “has the potential to democratize printed classical music much as open source has democratized the programming world," explained the cellist of the Chiara String Quartet. And the same website homepage states: "We at the IMSLP believe that music should be something that is easily accessible for everyone. For this purpose we have created a music library to provide music scores free of charge to anyone with internet access".

While many important composers are barely represented or absent because the copyright has not expired for their works, a number of contemporary composers have agreed to allow their works to be scanned under a Creative Commons license. Another evidence of the success about the site's mission: to promote music by making available for free a good slice of humanity’s musical treasures.

Read full article on the New York Times website. [22feb11]

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