Over the past few months, MakeMusic’s notation product manager and senior editor Mark Adler has been previewing the next version of Finale at the company’s official product blog. About three weeks ago, Mark previewed a feature which integrates importing PDFs directly into Finale, presumably without the need for third-party scanning software. He said: “We’ve been working with our friends at Musitek (the makers of SmartScore) to provide a better solution than scanning: the ability to directly import PDF files into Finale.” In a video, he took pictures with a smartphone and converted the image to a Finale file.
Our phones are capable of capturing high-resolution images, something that PhotoScore (a competing product made by Neuraton) has made use of in a smartphone app for nearly two years already. At most, Mark’s announcement seemed like a modest evolution, integrating a similar feature directly into Finale. We dutifully wrote it up last week in a general news recap and moved on.
Composers Jennifer Higdon and John Mackey didn’t see it as a benign improvement, however. For weeks, both publicly and privately, they actively lobbied MakeMusic to reconsider this feature. On Finale’s Facebook page, Jennifer wrote:
Oh boy, I could see lawsuits coming about this one. Finale doesn’t have any control over who copies PD music or Copyrighted music, but you are setting up a situation that could cause the collapse of music sales…No, there is no upside to having this feature, and I can foresee serious legal issues (and the costs that go with that) for lots of folks on both sides of the equation.
I mean, what’s the intent of this feature if not to destroy copyright? I’m confused. Any PDF file becomes a master Finale file with extractable parts…Finale Music Notation Software somehow hasn’t yet heard us. The next step is to talk a whole lot louder.”
The issue gained widespread attention on Tuesday of this week, when John posted about it on his Facebook page and said that he had pulled all of his titles from SmartMusic, MakeMusic’s educational interactive music software.
At the heart of this message, which has been liked and shared more than 1,000 times, was:
The problem is that [MakeMusic is] inexplicably not intending to honor any of the password protection that might be embedded in that file…it also will make it possible to edit the file, meaning one could load, say, ‘Strange Humors,’ and with a few clicks, have a version for any new instrumentation. Trombone choir. Marching band. Mariachi band. Anything. An unlicensed, copyright-infringed arrangement, score, parts, and all, without ever having purchased a single copy of the piece. This feature would be devastating to any composer or publisher.
The reaction was swift, largely supportive of the two composers’ positions, and generally unkind to Finale. Peter Witte, the dean of the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, wrote a fairly representative comment:
John Mackey, Jennifer Higdon and others are right. Finale Music Notation Software is wrong.
UMKC guides one of the finest and largest composition programs in the nation. Like Finale’s software, the compositions our students, alumni, and faculty create are valuable intellectual property. Why, then, would Finale threaten the very market that helped develop and sustain its product? In bypassing copyright protections in PDFs, Finale is proposing to do exactly that (see John’s note).
What if those of us who guide the thousands of ensembles, school systems, departments, and schools of music in America, many of whom purchase multi-seat Finale licenses, choose to purchase other music notation products until such time as Finale honors the music of our time and those who compose it?
Unfortunately, in the indignation that arose, a few key facts were misunderstood. The most important fact is that what Mark demonstrated was really a re-packaging of existing music OCR technology, which has existed for more than two decades. Just like any other document on the planet, if you can see it, it can be read and interpreted by OCR. It doesn’t matter if the document is a piece of paper, a print-restricted PDF that’s viewable on a computer screen, or an image on your phone.
Finale’s feature has no need to consider the print restriction on the PDF because it “sees” the document the same way a human would. It doesn’t access the embedded fonts, characters, or underlying data in the document the way PDFtoMusic Pro does (which does, incidentally, respect password restrictions if the user wishes to export the data).
Next, it’s illogical to think that MakeMusic — which is heavily investing in its SmartMusic platform and is now the the corporate bedfellow of Alfred Music — would deliberately introduce a feature that would be intended to undermine the copyright of all of its publishing partners. Not to mention, the file resulting from importing a moderately complex composition would likely be riddled with errors, formatting problems and other digital garbage. You’d have to spend so much time cleaning up the file — not to mention cueing and extracting parts — that the effort would hardly be worth it. In many cases it would be easier to just re-enter the music from scratch.
Which brings us to the next essential fact. It has always been possible to use Finale to make illegal copies of music by doing just that — entering in the music. You can imagine similar objections being made when Finale was invented: “Now it will be possible for people to just play in my copyrighted creation directly to the computer. Not only will they be able to print out a copy of it instantly, they’ll also be able to play it back and make an unauthorized recording of it! There is no upside to this program!”
Well, not quite. I’d venture that many composers have seen lots of upside to Finale. Indeed, Finale — along with the composers’ ability to print music on their own and distribute it using the internet — made their entire self-publishing businesses possible. They exploited the technology and disrupted an existing business model, to their credit and benefit.
All of these tools — from the printing press onwards to photocopiers, Finale, and the internet — have the potential to be used by some people for illegal activity. Yet no one would seriously ask Canon or Xerox to disable the high-speed feature on their machines to help thwart copyright violators. There’s no outcry imploring Apple and Samsung to remove the cameras, recording devices, and apps from the smartphones in everyone’s pocket, despite the risk of infringing on copyright every time that phone is used. And Gutenberg? His invention of the first mass-copying device seems to have gone okay for humanity so far.
Similarly, there’s no reason to put the brakes on developments that have the potential to help many more people create music more easily in a legal and productive manner. In fact, doing so would deny legitimate users like copyists and arrangers the potential to earn a better living by making use of better tools. Publishers (and therefore, composers) also stand to benefit by making it easier to restore a composition to which the original masters have been lost to time.
Piracy is a problem, but impeding technological progress has never been the solution. Enforcement of piracy laws is key. This is where more traditional publishers still have an important advantage — they have the resources to track down infringement, and do so quite well, in a way that self-published composers simply cannot. Self-published composers choose to accept that trade-off in exchange for ownership of their work and a higher share of royalties than they would receive in the traditional model.
Education about the meaning and use of copyrighted works is also continuously needed. As one publisher said to me, “The worst offenders of infringement are not individuals, but companies who think they can outsmart the publishing lawyers through technicalities or just plain ignorance. Arrangement licenses are very common and often agreed to retroactively because the ‘infringer’ didn’t even know they needed one.”
Most importantly, an evolution of the business model is needed along with the changes in technology.
Music is already easily copyable, after all. If there is truly a demand for “trombone choir” and “mariachi” arrangements of these concert works, maybe composers should spend less effort threatening lawsuits over the technology and spend more time actually creating or licensing these arrangements to meet the demand. There is a start-up in Nashville called NiceChart which sees that potential and is aiming to automatically create (legal) arrangements of works for many on-demand combinations of custom instrumentation.
Now, rejecting PDFs that have copy or print restrictions is certainly a reasonable request, and MakeMusic eventually confirmed that they are respecting any restrictions embedded in the file, although they did not immediately confirm as such when the request was first raised. But it’s a finger in a fire hose. Someone intent on circumventing the restriction will surely find another way, either by taking a screenshot or using other programs that don’t respect the password restriction.
Adobe warns as much when you create a password-restricted PDF:
Password-protected PDFs are not the best solution, but they’re easy, cheap and ubiquitous. They can be viewed on any device without any special software. Composers enjoy the benefits of the ease with which they can create and distribute music, but they need to accept the risks, which are clearly articulated. Anytime something can be viewed, it can be copied — that’s the reality. More secure methods of digital dissemination and encryption are available, of course. But they would inevitably add layers of complication, hindering the promotion of the music, the art of which composers like Jennifer and John have mastered.
Could MakeMusic have done a better job of assuaging the composers’ concerns before the topic exploded on social media? Perhaps. I don’t know the exact nature of the composers’ discussions with MakeMusic, though perhaps the two sides were talking past each other.
If MakeMusic is guilty of anything, it’s a fair amount of overpromising on what is essentially a bundling of existing software capabilities. Mark Adler demonstrated a very simple public domain example in his blog post and made it seem almost too easy to create a finished Finale file. But it’s also surprising that experienced Finale users like Jennifer and John would — knowing the software’s challenges all too well — make the leap that this new feature would instantly give anyone the both the technical tools and the skills to reverse-engineer a complex piece of concert music, or as John said, “it’s like providing a master key for every PDF.” So there was a fair amount of hype happening on both sides.
I understand the concern that these composers have about their livelihood, but the criticism leveled at MakeMusic is misdirected in its target and tone. When it comes to protecting the rights of fellow composers in the digital age, stifling innovation is a losing battle, even if iterations of the technology do indeed eventually make it easier to achieve that “master key.” Instead, the time is ripe for new ways of thinking about licensing, enforcing, and educating the public about those rights, just as ASCAP did a century ago.
And when it comes to talking about Finale, it would be more productive if composers used their considerable clout to to improve Finale’s core features instead of being overly alarmist about the nefarious consequences of bundling existing tech into the product. That’s the kind of real advocacy that composers need for the tools they rely on for their living. After all, people have been able to steal music for quite a while already — no Finale required.
Updated June 20, 2016 at 4:30 pm with a clarification regarding the concerns raised about embedded print restrictions in PDFs.
This blog is independent of any software company. The opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author.