Just prior to my walk-about, I spent a few years working in the library at a world-renowned music publishing company, representing one of the most prestigious catalogs around. Matter of fact, I’d performed many of the pieces throughout my French horn days, to the extent that I had a few weird experiences where library materials ended up on my music stand at a gig I’d do after hours.
At the risk of sounding as though I’ve passed this post through corporate PR, working for one of the companies that made such an impact on my young musician self was a wonderful start to my career in libraries. I’ll be forever grateful to have had the experience of understanding the sometimes tumultuous and always industrious world of rights holders.
Because the company’s assets are protected by copyright, orchestral music from the catalog – as well as others with whom reciprocal arrangements had been made – are held in company libraries and dispatched through local agencies by contract with orchestras across the world. For the final 13 months of my tenure, my principle responsibility was to work with these performing arts organizations to ensure that their ducks were in a row, licensing wise, and that their questions on copyright, licensing, and locating the representatives for certain pieces of music were answered.
Over the course of five years, I became pretty adept at defending the right of private industries to charge fees for their information goods… well, sheet music, in my case. At times it felt like advocacy on behalf of the publishing industry at large. While fees charged for these licenses seemed exorbitant to some, the cold hard truth is that protection for the fortunate few who can claim copyright protection for their content is established by federal law. The principle goal of publishers of all stripes, in conjunction with operating their rights,* is mainly to stay viable. As a once and form industry insider, I was glad to witness the talent development that occurred as a result of the income generated by music rentals.
In the four months since, it’s been particularly interesting to gain insight into the perspectives that I once fielded in countless phone conversations and email threads. It has become evident that the mindset within libraries and other cultural institutions is one of deep respect for the proliferation of ideas throughout the community. This is true, I believe, of publishing as well – their goal is (or, at the very least, is should be) to identify works of art that will sustain the cultural relevance of music (or literature or art or research or any other cultural artifact) and to promote the voices that create. At a fundamental level, most everyone I’ve met within publishing and on the client side thus far works toward the idea of creating a sustainable model whereby we might be able to protect ideas, and to pass them along to the future Benjamin Brittens of the world.
* I’m taking a dispassionate view, in this post, of the storied history of the expansion of copyright protection for content owners. There’s lots to be said (and lots and lots to read) about the long and winding road of copyright legislation and the meaning of “for limited Times” granted in the US Constitution. Who knows, maybe I’ll get there in my posts this month.