On June 29 the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), a Canadian-based online library of digitized sheet music came back online. Apparently CIPPIC, the Stanford Fair Use Project and others came to the rescue.
The revival of this project represents one important battle won. As I posted and, more interestingly, Howard Knopf posted, last year, the site was shut down following threats from Universal Edition AG. Universal's complaint? The site, legal under Canadian copyright law, was infringing the copyright laws of other countries. This flew in the face of Canadian copyright sovereignty; if everyone in the world has to follow the highest level of copyright held by any country in the world we'd all be operating, as Knopf noted, under Mexican copyright law, which lasts for life + 100 years.
If life + 100 seems long now, life + 50 seemed long in 1910 when the term was first considered among British possessions. That year at an Imperial Copyright Conference, one British official confessed, when he saw that the proposed term of life + 50 years “it rather shocked him.” He doubted that such a long term would be accepted by the House of Commons. Representatives from Canada and India found the proposed term long, but were prepared to go along with it. Only the New Zealand delegate, Hall Caine, refused to go along, blocking a unanimous recommendation on the point, which nevertheless was eventually incorporated into law throughout the British dominions.
The IMSLP project demonstrates what those decisions were really about. The willingness of Britain, Canada and India to go along with shockingly longer and longer terms, and the tendency of many projects to cave under threat of legal action, have made projects like the IMSLP rare. However for now, with the principle of copyright sovereignty defended, Canada is making possible a wonderful resource for music students and lovers around the world.