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Scanning a portion of a score (as a sample to share)

Hello.  Scanning a copyrighted, published score and uploading it to an image host website, in order to share it with other interested musicians, would seem to be in violation of the law.  What do you think about scanning only a page or two?  On this forum, when answering someone's request for recommended music, it might be useful to share a score sample of a work you think they might enjoy.  Recordings (on youtube, etc.) sometimes can't be located, and octavo sample images are available from publishers or retailers only for certain pieces.
Kevin Lash
Princeton, NJ
Replies (9): Threaded | Chronological
on May 28, 2014 2:50am
Hello, the copyright is a right to protect the work of people or institutions. Every score or picture that is copyright protected needs the allowance of its owner to be copied. 
This right covers the complete work as well as parts of it. So you need to ask for permission, also, if you scan only a part of one page out of the score of (for example) Carmina Burana.
The only exception is, if you own the original score and use the scan o n l y for your private use or for lesson in a regular school.
Before you scan or copy a protected thing, you'd better ask the owner. (in germany this law offers you up to 5 Yeras prison in bigger cases)
Manfred Bender (German center for choral music and expert in copyrght demands)
on May 28, 2014 5:39am
THe scanning/distribution you mention, even of a page or two, requires that you secure permission. Otherwise it is a violation of copyright.
on May 28, 2014 5:46am
Dear Mr. Lash,
Any duplication (scanning) and dissemination without permission of the rights owner is a viation of copyright law. The publishers are taking action on this and have created an enforcement company called Copyright Control and Compliance and I believe they look for exactly what you describe.  I would reccomend asking the publisher for permission before doing any scanning and posting.
on May 29, 2014 5:24am
What you describe appears to fall within the "fair use" doctrine and would allow the unlicensed use of the copyrighted material.  See  But, you do this at your own risk.
David Spitko
on May 29, 2014 6:56am
Fair use info from the US copyright office:
One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the copyright law (title 17, U. S. Code). One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use.” The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years and has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

Copyright protects the particular way authors have expressed themselves. It does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in a work.

The safest course is to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

When it is impracticable to obtain permission, you should consider avoiding the use of copyrighted material unless you are confident that the doctrine of fair use would apply to the situation. The Copyright Office can neither determine whether a particular use may be considered fair nor advise on possible copyright violations. If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney.

on May 29, 2014 11:11am
"What constitutes fair use?" is really the question I was getting at, in starting this thread.  Thank you all for the input.
[I am familiar with one major example of fair use determination: namely college & university libraries, in preparing excerpts of books for electronic course reserve.  Each institution must decide how to interpret copyright law; e.g. perhaps 20% of a book (so long as the library owns it) can be scanned and shared with students, but beyond that amount permission must be sought and paid for.  Journals and other sources of content are a bit different.  Video and audio can get into hairier situations, and the rules are certainly in flux.]
My assumption is that my original proposal -- the electronic sharing of a few pages of a score, not for copying & distributing to singers, but simply for perusal -- should be acceptable.  In the digital age, sending a score in the mail should not be the primary way to trade repertoire ideas.  Buying new is the proper option, but of course many publishers today have minimum orders (precisely because they must combat illegal copying).  Furthermore, lots of great pieces are out of print, and while permission must be sought before duplicating for a choir, making a single copy/scan is the only way to share it with a colleague.  We often act at our own risk; sometimes that is worthwhile for the sake of the composer and the music.
Kevin Lash
Princeton, NJ
on June 23, 2014 12:41pm
No.  Post it to a website?  No.
Fair use?  Two pages is not fair use.  
Two bars, to illustrate some kind of compositional or performance issue that is discussed within the context of an academic article, that could be fair use.
Have you considered contacting the publisher?  Or simply using a link to the publisher's website or a retailer's website. 
Most of those now have "look inside" images.  A link to those existing webpages would be OK.
FWIW, that's my two cents.
on July 2, 2014 12:42am
I'd like to agree with this chorus of dissenters, and also to add -- from a publisher's perspective (a very small publisher, but publisher nonetheless) -- how torn this issue makes me feel.  I would love (love love love) for you to share a repertoire suggestion for a piece that I publish with your friends and colleagues.  That is the best possible sort of recommendation for a piece of music, and the kind of advertising we all hope for.  The PROBLEM with letting you copy and distribute a score page -- even when your heart is in the best possible place, of generosity and delight and eagerness to share your joy -- is that you could seriously undermine a publisher's business by doing so.  And that is not exaggerating.  Consider the many perusal scores publishers put out there, showing perhaps the first 2 pages of a 3-page score.  What if you decide you'd like to share the third page ("here's the climactic ending!").  Once that image is out there, it is out there forever.  With a simple Google search any potential customer could reconstitute that score and perform from it, without the publisher seeing a dime ever again.  Servers overseas (where copyright laws are more lax) are "farming" images and PDFs and compiling them into databases that provide sheet music "sharing" digitally.  They do it automatically -- even if Google takes it down, it's been copied and saved to servers everywhere.  It's appalling and keeps me up at night (hence this post at 2:30 am).  Please please please don't do this.  If you care about composers at all, if you care about the quality of new music, and the continuation of the art form, please please please don't do this.
The best approach is exactly what Jack said above: link to the publisher's website if possible.
Or for extra credit, contact the publisher and say "hey there's a piece you publish that I'd really like my colleagues to know more about on ChoralNet. Can you visit this thread and share a sample of the score with us?"  (Every publisher I know would jump on that in a heartbeat!)
Applauded by an audience of 2
on July 3, 2014 7:25am
Abbie makes a very good point, and there's a lesson for us composers to be learned here. I have not had any bad experiences – well, only a couple – with copyright infringement that I know of. Of course there may well have been some, but I look at it this way– even an occasional 'pirated' performance gets the music around. I think if it can be controlled rather than worrying about every last possible infringement, the composer will benefit in the end, and not lose sleep!
My practice with self-published music (approximately 50% of my output to date) has always been to send out or have on my website a substantial sample, but never ever the last page or two (depending upon length). Ditto when asked if someone can send out a sample of my self-published music. I never send out samples of my my traditionally published music, advising inquirers to ask the publisher for a sample copy or whatever they supply. I'm really with you on that one, Abbie.
Abbie- have you ever encountered instances of your music being 'farmed'? If so, how did you happen to discover it? That's pretty Orwellian. I can easily see it happening with pop music, especially solo sheet music as opposed to choral settings. I'll be the first to admit I likely need a good dose of reality!
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