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Selling original choral works online

I am overhauling my web site and am thinking about offering my choral works via electronic download.  The ease of doing business this way is certainly attractive; however, my biggest concern is receiving payment for the actual number of copies printed for each choir, instead of someone ordering one copy and then printing 25, plus passing the file or printed copy to someone else to copy and use--obviously not a good scene!
The other thing I need to do fairly often is offer additional separate parts that support a full score, such as a hammered-dulcimer-only score (to avoid page turns), a piano reduction, that kind of thing.
Fwiw, I am not (yet!) dealing with royalty issies that involve lyricists, existing copyrighted melodies, and the like.
Surely someone here has experience with this so that I can advise my web developer how best to proceed.
Thank you very much,
Lucille Reilly
(still up and running, but if you want visual comparison some weeks out, have a look now!)
on May 14, 2014 5:03am
Hi Lucille, 
There may be a way to limit how many copies someone prints by now, but I doubt it.  Don't let it worry you too much.  The sheet music world has always operated on the honor system for photocopying, now it can transition to the honor system for printing too.  Most people who want to print 25 copies of your score have a budget for buying music, and perhaps a committee who decides what music to buy.  There is a certain amount of social pressure to do the right thing and the funds are available to do it.  Why would anyone want to risk cheating the system?  
As long as your website is set up to make it very easy to peruse music, select the correct number of scores, print, and pay, directors should be delighted to do the right thing.  (If you irritate them by making the process difficult, all bets are off.)  Most people merrily pay for music on iTunes, because it is easier to do the right thing, and get the music instantly, than it is to keep pestering your friend to make you an illegal copy.  
In my non-musical life, I'm a potter.  Before it became easy to take credit cards using my smart phone, I would tell people at craft fairs to take their purchase home with them and mail me a check, if they didn't have enough cash on hand for what they wanted.  In a decade of doing business that way, everyone ALWAYS mailed the check.  Walmart is a big faceless corporation.  You might not feel bad about stiffing Walmart if the opportunity presented itself.  But I am a charming local potter that you just spent five minutes chatting with.  You like my work and you want to be sure I'm back again next year.  Of course you send the check.  Making your site as personal as possible, as opposed to overly slick and corporate, will help encourage compliance.  
Applauded by an audience of 4
on May 14, 2014 7:03am
My alter ego is a web developer and we are working on a site that sells sheet music. You might want to check out FlexPaper. It's a plug-in that allows you to specify how many copies can be printed (I usually see this limited to two). You can also watermark the pages or place a tag on it saying how many copies the license covers.
The bottom line is there's no way to protect against infringement if people are determined enough. If you give them a PDF, they can send it anywhere. If you allow print-only, they can scan the print and make a PDF of it. If you allow screen-only, and they're really determined, they can take screenshots of each page and cobble together a PDF from that.
The key is to strike a balance between your rights and their convenience. I'm less likely to buy from a company that only allows me one printout because what happens if something goes wrong with the print? I have to buy it again? No way. I suggest you experiment -- try one configuration for a while, then another. See which one leads to more sales. That's the beauty of the web -- you can always change it!
Sing on!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 14, 2014 8:00am
You should join ChoralNet's Composer Community, where many of the participants have faced these issues and this topic has been discussed extensively.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on May 14, 2014 10:25am
In your particular case, what you want to offer are "reproduction licenses." Essentially, the purchaser downloads one copy, and is licensed to reproduce X number of copies. A particular advantage of this is there is no sales tax on these in most states. Most publishers are getting more accustomed to doing this because of a trend by choruses to use iPads.
Unfortunately, complying with every legal regulation as a self-publisher is quite a hassle (and a case for small government).
1. You have to register for a business license in your county or city, and file annual business taxes.
2. In most states, you need to register a fictious business name.
3. You need to register with your state equalization body for the collection and reporting of state sales taxes.
4. You need to register with one of the main performing rights societies (ASCAP or BMI - your work sounds more ASCAP - $50 annually). Similarly, the lyricist must also register, and you must establish ownership percentages for each individual work.
5. You may need to register with the Harry Fox Agency if a recording of your works is commercially distributed by a third party.
6. You will need to obtain an ISMN publisher ID from the library of Congress.
7. Although not technically required, each work should be registered with the United States Copyright Office, or else your ability to exploit the composition is signficantly curtailed, and you have no right to pursue legal fees for infringement actions.
There are third-party services for composer-publishers that can do all of this for you for a fee, and they can host the downloading of your music.
on May 15, 2014 5:26am
I've always offered my copies as "pay a set amount, print as many copies as you want". After all, it doesn't make any difference to me practically whether someone prints off 25 or 50 copies - it's the same amount of work for me - and it means they can replace lost copies easily. The copies are specifically labelled with the choir's name though. Nobody has yet objected to this and I've made several sales despite being self-published (prices range from $15 to $50 for the pieces I've sold - I have a 45-minute Requiem on sale at $150 or so which hasn't sold yet with that method, but that's not very surprising. I do offer the option of ordering individual prints by post, prices from $1 to $4 - nobody has yet asked for this though.)
A piano reduction is ALWAYS worth including. I tend to put mine on smaller staves below the choir part (typically sized at 70% or 80% of the choir staves) and leave off dynamics etc. (though pause marks and tempo marks are helpful to leave in).
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 15, 2014 10:30am
I publish on (the now-defunct) site which has morphed into The up-side of these sites is they do the distribution and handle any printing problems incurred by the purchaser. The down-side is we, the composers, are at the whim of the company handling the site, the fees they charge, and (as you mention) purchasers buying one copy and making multiples for their ensembles.
Having used various print-on-demand websites, I say the answer is in the "pay one price/print as much as you want" option. You get what you feel is a fair price for an ensemble work and the buyer gets to make as many copies as they need. I have also liked the option of "email me for parts". Although this may be seen as a "hassle" for the buyer, as Maggie mentioned above, this creates a relationship between you and the buyer, so there is less of a chance of copying to happen. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 16, 2014 8:10am
Have you tried TeachersPayTeachers?  The seller in the link below offers her original music online through the site as do many other musicians.
I am sure that if you contact her, she will share what she does regarding reproduction.  I sell my Middle School Sight Singing program on the site, and I love it. You get 85% of every sale, and tons of exposure on the site when you network with other music teachers.  There are built in reproduction licenses and "multiple-copy" license fees on the site that help protect original work.  It's really a great 21st century way to offer your work for others to use and there are no publishers to deal with.  People print the materials at their computers.
To open a store and sell your music, you can use this link:
Good luck,
Dale Duncan
My Middle School Sight Singing program, S-Cubed, is available at:
My blog for middle school teachers:
on August 24, 2015 1:32pm
You should also check out what we are doing over at We are a marketplace for artist owned sheet music.
Let me know if I can help.
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