Someone Wrote That Song… An Anti-Piracy Crusade

[updated 11/3/16] One of our writers, Gregory Jacobs-Roseman, posted this on facebook this week:

g-jacobs-roseman-fb-post

It reminded us how often the “Why should I pay when I can get it somewhere else for free?” attitude comes up. We here at ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com believe strongly that writers deserve to get paid for their work (Did you know we give our writers 100% of their songs sales?!). We thought it would be a good time to repost this blog David wrote on this subject back in 2014.

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[originally posted 4/29/14] Laura and I are Facebook friends with Kooman + Dimond, which we think makes us just a bit cooler. We greatly admire them and their work and are glad they’re part of contemporarymusicaltheatre.com.

Scrolling through their news feed a while back, Laura noticed this interaction they had with a K+D fan about sheet music for one of their songs. We share this with their permission – the guilty party’s name and profile picture have been blocked.

kooman&dimondsheetmusic

First of all, why would you get into a skirmish of words with a writer? Good on Michael and Christopher for handling it so well.

But what really shocks me is the gall of the young performer. The “Why should I pay when I can get it somewhere else for free?” attitude.

Sadly, this is not at all uncommon. You might be familiar with Jason Robert Brown’s argument with a teen about his own music several years back (you can read it here). As logical and meticulously laid out as his argument was, I don’t know if he was able to change the teenager’s mind.

The truth of the matter is, between websites like Hal Leonard’s sheetmusicdirect.com, alfred.com, musicnotes.com, repertwa.com (founded by Aussie musical director Tyson Armstrong), our website: contemporarymusicaltheatre.com and newmusicaltheatre.com (which Kait Kerrigan & Brian Lowdermilk launched in 2009) there’s no excuse for pirating sheet music because we’ve collectively begun to make finding (and paying for) sheet music online very easy.

We know our readers are a savvy bunch who would never take advantage of writers by pirating their scores. But just as an exercise, I’m going to spell out why pirating is a really bad idea:

  1. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a single commercial industry in which consumers personally get to determine a working individual’s worth. You may have opinions about a lawyer, accountant or famous baseball player, but you don’t have any control over how much they get paid for their chosen profession. Nor should you. That’s exactly what sheet music pirates do. They send a mixed message by stealing music they must obviously value while telling the writer their work is worth $0.00. Imagine saying that to a writer’s face.
  2. Have you ever gone to an artisan fair? You’ll find some very interesting handmade things you won’t see anywhere else. Isn’t that worth paying for? Now think of all of the hours of craftsmanship writers put into their songs. It’s not exaggerating to say that my collaborator Tom Gualtieri and I torture ourselves for the better part of a month over a new song and then often go back and make small edits long after we’ve written it. Writers are artisans, selling their unique wares. Honor them by paying a modest fee for their work.
  3. Many writers rely on the small stream of income from the sales of their music, in conjunction to any royalties they may receive (we get little checks in the mail from ASCAP or BMI when our works are publicly performed or played on the radio). It’s often not a ton of money, but those checks always seem to come right when we need them.
      1. I’ve heard some people make hollow arguments like: “Trust me, Sondheim isn’t going to miss the money.” Oh really? See point 1.
  4. If writers can’t afford to write their own work, guess what…? Less new work. There are tons of writers who aren’t able to focus on their own work because they have to make a living writing for others. They do copyist work, arrangements, orchestrations and other for-hire jobs that may be keeping them from what they really want to write. Who wants to be the person that stops someone from being able to do what they love? I know I don’t!

I could go on but, as I said, I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted.

The whole problem of score piracy seems to stem from a perceived anonymity on the internet, which breeds an unhealthy level of entitlement.  Many pirates assume they won’t be smoked out for sharing a couple PDFs online or trading a handful of scores. Wrong!

Last week, the Dramatists Guild did something extraordinary. Some of our revered musical theatre writers – including Jason Robert Brown, Craig Carnelia, Nancy Ford, Amanda Green, Adam Gwon, Kait Kerrigan & Brian Lowdermilk, Michael Kooman, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephen Schwartz, David Shire, Georgia Stitt and Nathan Tyson to name a few – sat down at a network of computers in the Guild’s Frederick Loewe Room in front of tons of press and began e-mailing personal notes to known score thieves. This was the next logical step in a series of fantastic initiatives spearheaded by the Guild’s Anti-Piracy Committee, chaired by Carnelia and with members Stephen Flaherty, Kait Kerrigan, Andrew Lippa, Brian Lowdermilk, Georgia Stitt and Sean Patrick Flahven.

A writer selfie at The Dramatists Guild Anti-Piracy event
A writer selfie at The Dramatists Guild Anti-Piracy event on Monday, April 21, 2014

The goal, of course, is to raise awareness among offenders that what they’re doing is not only illegal, but hurting our industry. The Guild committee is also drafting a letter to the heads of musical theatre schools around the country to encourage them to create their own anti-piracy policies.

So, there’s no hiding anymore. Imagine receiving an e-mail from Stephen Schwartz that essential says, “Hey – I know you’re pirating music my colleagues and I wrote. Knock it off!” Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be in therapy for a good month or two! I hope it begins to make offenders think about what they’re doing.

Here’s some footage taken from the evening, as captured by the Washington Post.

Broadway Composers Unite to End Music Piracy

Being among the enlightened, you already know not to pirate scores. So, what should you do if you can’t find the score to a song you really like?

  1. Go online. Fully utilize online resources like the ones mentioned above. Really, there’s very little you’re not going to find among them.
  2. Go to the library. We live in a very “I want it now!” world, fueled by our ability to get things fast on the internet. But there are these places in most every city and town supported by taxpayer dollars called libraries that may often have scores you’re looking for. Or you can order it on intra-library loan (OK, now I’m just dating myself…). Yes, it’s not exactly fast, but it’s also not stealing.
  3. Contact the writer. If you’re looking for a contemporary song you can’t find, directly reach out to the writer. Do you know how much many of us enjoy getting correspondences from folks who want our music? It’s literally like having the doors flung open on a dark room we forgot we were in. Writers, by nature, tend to be a little on the isolationist side, so help us be social: tell us how much you like our songs and ask how we can purchase them.

Want to be more proactive? Here are some great places to start:

  1. Go to the Dramatists Guild anti-piracy page and check out their resources.
  2. Tweet about this issue with the hashtag #ISupportSongWriters
  3. Sign the broadwayworld.com anti-piracy pledge here.

Feeling overwhelmed by all this? Well, then sit back, put your feet up for a minute and treat yourself by watching this video produced by the Dramatists Guild, written by Alan Menken & Craig Carnelia. It will serve as a wonderful palate cleanser before you click here to sign the anti-piracy pact.

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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 180 contemporary musical theatre writers and 550+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.

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