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Copyright in a Changing Digital Landscape (CCDL)

A session in Music Research in the Digital Age, a joint congress of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres IIAML) and the International Musicological Society (IMS)

Place and Date: New York, the Juilliard School, 21-26 June 2015

Time: Thursday, 25 June 2015 This three-hour session is presented in two parts by the IMS Programme Committee,

Participants (biographies below)

  • Eleanor Selfridge-Field (chair)
  • Derek Miller
  • Eric Harbeson
  • Nicholas Tsui
  • Robert Clarida
  • Richard Chesser
  • Federica Riva (respondent)


This session considers popular and classical music; scores and audio; American, British, and European law; past, present, and (possible) future concepts of music as intellectual property. Each talk is 20 minutes, with questions and discussion clustered in the last half hour of each session.

  • Session I: 9:00-10:30 (Miller, Harbeson, Tsui)
  • Session II: 11:00-12:30 (Clarida, Chesser, Riva)

Formal description

The technology-driven explosion of methods for creating, storing, searching, and sharing music continues to create an aura of uncertainty for scholars and librarians. What used to be clear is now often murky. Imponderable questions appear much faster than the laws of any country evolve. Extrinsic considerations—-when and how a piece of music may be used—-remain largely fixed but also easily verified. Although not always easily enforced, the law is clear on the traditional sequence of events: create, publish, perform, and record. Every step in this sequence now may be digital, which means that there is no longer a necessary starting or ending point, nor is there necessarily an instantiation of the work in “fixed form” (a hallowed requirement for copyright protection in the US). Some differences in the duration of copyright from country to country occur and remain the subject of vigorous debate. Within many music enclaves, an increasing number of new works, and new ways of composing, fall outside the boundaries of protection.

Intrinsic factors—themes, melodies, voicing and orchestration—-issuing from the music itself--can be expected to play an increasing role in discussions of music as intellectual property as our ability to create, control, alter, and search digital musical content improves. Will the role of arbitrary analogies in legal judgments decline? Judges and advocates may be uncomfortable talking about music per se. It is far too soon to say whether digital tools to evaluate musical similarity electronically will be trusted sufficiently.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day fabric of decision-making required of librarians and scholars is constantly battered by recurrent questions concerning access and fair use, particularly to musical arts of the past century. Recurrent areas of discussion include quotations from recordings, film scores (both recorded and improvised), and background music; ambiguities of fair use; uncertainties and divergent national understandings of performing rights; and emerging questions issuing from a multiplicity of new media contexts. A growing acknowledgment of the importance of intellectual-property questions has prompted a number of recent studies on historical models of copyright protection with musicology and adjacent disciplines as well as extensive historical investigation judgments in music copyright cases.

This panel examines a selection of these issues with the intent of viewing them in diverse musical and historical contexts. The larger issues of improved international understandings of music copyright remains one of central concern. Here the IMS can happily rely on the extensive work of IAML’s copyright committee to keep us current.

Participant Biographies

  • Eleanor Selfridge-Field (moderator). Consulting Professor of Music, Symbolic Systems, Stanford University, Stanford, California. Digital data specialist; former Co-Chair, IMS Study Group on Digital Musicology.
  • Derek Miller. Assistant Professor of English, Harvard University. Miller’s monograph-in-progress features extensive research on musical-theater performances in relation to copyright law in the United Kingdom and North America.
  • Eric Harbeson. Special Music Collections Librarian, University of Colorado Boulder; recent Chair, Legislative Committee of the Music Library Association. Harbeson is a frequent speaker and writer on fair use with particular emphasis on sound archives.
  • Nicholas Tsui. Attorney, Alston & Bird LLC, a firm specializing in intellectual property. Former member of Technology Law Review’s Editorial Board, Stanford University. Tsui is exploring possibilities of a rapid assessment tool for the evaluation of popular-music infringement claims.
  • Robert Clarida. Partner at Reitler, Kailas and Rosenblatt, LLC, New York City, New York. Clarida holds a Ph.D. in musical composition, is a former Fulbright scholar in musicology, and has taught music theory and musicology at Dartmouth College. He is the author of the Copyright Law Deskbook (online from 2009), a frequent writer and speaker on copyright issues, adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, and a former trustee of the Copyright Society of the USA. He practices in the areas of music, software, film, and new media.
  • Richard Chesser. Head of Music, British Library, London; Chair, RISM UK Trust; former secretary, IAML copyright committee. Chesser is an advocate for terms that would more adequately enable public utilization of important musical resources (including audio) in the UK.
  • Respondent: Federica Riva. Music Librarian, Conservatorio Statale di Musica “Luigi Cherubini,” Florence, Italy). Former Chair, IAML copyright committee; current head, IAML/Italy. Riva coordinated an international survey of music-copyright basics in which cultural variables proved to play an unexpectedly large role.