Date: January 6, 2016
I have waited a while to write about this, because I was not sure this is the right forum to do so, and in fact I am still not sure. But many of us undoubtedly use IMSLP for both practical and academic purposes, and I do believe that this is a topic that perhaps warrants some discussion and awareness.
On 29 Dec 2015, IMSLP announced the introduction of a subscription plan. Non-members now have a waiting period of 15 seconds before downloading certain files from IMSLP's US servers.* The waiting period can be eliminated by purchasing a membership for $22.80 a year, or for being contributors to the library.
*It should be noted that, at the current time, it is not entirely clear which files are subject to the waiting period. It was announced that files shared under Creative Commons non-commercial licensing and files hosted by IMSLP's Canadian and EU servers are not affected. I can confirm as of this writing that I am able to download some non-EU files shared as Public Domain without a waiting period, while attempting to download other files leads to the waiting screen, and I'm unable to determine what the difference is between those files. I am also unable to determine which files are hosted on CA servers from the work's page. I suspect that IMSLP may have scaled back on the heavy-handed implementation of the waiting screen initially introduced on Dec 29 after significant backlash, but I have no evidence to the effect.
The announcement has drawn the ire of a significant portion of the IMSLP community, most importantly from many contributors. Both the membership fee and the waiting period are trivial, and I have no doubt that most of us are more than willing to pay either cost in a vacuum. However, the entire implementation processof the subscription plan, including the ongoing response from IMSLP management, has raised questions about IMSLP's operation and its future viability. It is therefore this process that has drawn the most backlash from IMSLP users and contributors.
1. The move was made abruptly without prior announcement (in a readily perceptible manner, at least) or discussion. Certainly, the community was not consulted on the decision, and at this time it is unclear who was party to the discussion, or if any discussion took place at all. At least one administrator and one part-owner of the site's regional servers have expressed that they were blindsided by the decision. If any consultation was done, it could only have occurred in very limited circles unknown to the public.
2. IMSLP management claims that the move has done to ensure the site's long-term sustainability, while admitting that at the curent time there is sufficient funding for the site. The site owner's arguments for implementing this method may be viewed through IMSLP's announcement on its homepage. However, many community members have found the arguments to be less than convincing, and I personally believe that they raise more questions that even the subscription plan itself regarding the quality of IMSLP's operations. It may be stated as a fact, however, that all methods for funding have most certainly not been exhausted prior to the implementation of the subscription plan, considering the complete lack of funding drives or open, visible call for donations. Therefore, the necessity of such a subscription plan in maintaining IMSLP's operations must be considered highly questionable.
3. While the intentions of IMSLP management has not been seriously questioned, this incident reveals and highlights that the operating entity of imslp.org is not a charity organization (such as CPDL, for example), but a private company with no obligation of accountability. Of the contributors who oppose this move, many have expressed discomfort at the perception that volunteer contributions are being monetized by a private company, and that the site is on shaky moral ground in implementing paid subscription for such contributions, while also soliciting donations as a private company, in the absence of a clear financial need. IMSLP has declined to release any financial information. At the core it may be argued that the lack of accountability and transparency is at the heart of the subscription plan's implementation in the first place, as it is hard to imagine that a publicly accountable foundation would have made such a decision that draws such significant backlash from its community.
I should note that I myself am among the numbers who have lambasted the move on IMSLP's own forums and I do not present a neutral point of view, but I have attempted to represent the facts as they are without distortion, and my own opinions are represented as such. I am only a user of the site and I only report the opinions of contributors as I witness them, but at the very least a vocal portion of them have expressed a strong opposition for IMSLP's direction, and reluctance to continue to contribute to the site in its current form.
As I have already expressed, I personally find the changes highly disconcerting, and I am hardly alone in my opinion. I find the decision to introduce this subscription plan to be poorly thought-out and highly ill-advised, with devastating consequences for IMSLP's credibility. On a personal level I cannot find myself supporting IMSLP in any form as long as it continues to represent itself as a privately-operated entity, and I am also less than comfortable with organizations or institutions that I am affiliated with supporting it.
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