MakeMusic today announced that they would be removing their previously announced PDF importing feature from the upcoming release of Finale. In addition, scanning functionality will be removed from Finale entirely, the company said in a post on their official blog, and going forward the company will “refocus efforts to aim PDF import and OCR technology squarely at creating content for SmartMusic,” its proprietary music learning software.
Fred Flowerday, vice president of product strategy for MakeMusic, said:
I firmly believe that we need to create opportunities in our software through which we can maximize technologies such as OCR and not restrict them.
The new SmartMusic is this opportunity.
Our vision is to provide high quality content, wrapped in tools for learning, accessible via the web and delivered through a platform that empowers teachers in which rights holders always get fairly paid.
If we are able to leverage technologies such as OCR to speed up and empower the creation process for SmartMusic content, it is a win for all involved. And this is exactly what we intend to do.
It is the decision of MakeMusic to remove the PDF import functionality from the upcoming release of Finale. In fact, we are going to take a further step and remove scanning functionality entirely from Finale. We are serious about the integrity of music rights.
Instead, we will refocus efforts to aim PDF import and OCR technology squarely at creating content for SmartMusic. With this approach, we have an opportunity to push the boundaries of what the technology is capable of and create an unapologetically powerful content creation tool for a fully controlled environment in which all rights holders are fairly paid and have a stake in it’s success.
The move is a direct result of the reaction of composers who ignited a social media firestorm last week by objecting to the feature on the belief that it “would be devastating to any composer or publisher.” Some composers objected to the concept of scanning or photographing any PDF for use within Finale. Others voiced a more narrow concern that the feature would bypass PDF restrictions embedded by the creator of the PDF, a concern that MakeMusic did not immediately assuage — although they eventually did say that such restrictions would be respected and files with such restrictions would not be processed. (For more context, see a post from this blog from Friday, June 17.)
It appears that the decision was made sometime last week at the height of the blowback, before a more complete understanding of the issue was digested by the community (including from this blog). Since then, a number of users have expressed support for the feature, which was largely a bundling of existing (and uncontroversial) technology that had been available for more than two decades, and did not circumvent password restrictions embedded in a PDF or extract data from it, contrary to the belief of many who were concerned.
MakeMusic’s decision to remove the feature is regrettable but understandable. Since publishing our article last Friday, several industry leaders and prominent composers contacted me in support of the Finale feature, but decided against commenting publicly about it. Surely they, and MakeMusic, know that this is not a battle worth wading into further, when the alternative — scanning using the existing software and sending it to Finale using MusicXML — accomplishes the exact same result, albeit with one or two more clicks.
Although it’s easier, and sensible, to cut bait on the issue and move on for now, I hope that this episode doesn’t portend a future in our field where technological progress is impeded by overblown concerns about misuse. The cruel irony is that doing so will harm composers and other creators much more in the long-term by possibly stifling creativity and making it more difficult to work effectively. I heard from one musician who has poor sight-reading skills but excellent instrumental and sequencer chops. He told me that he was excited about the possibility of using Finale to scan music so that he could read it, convert it and send it via MIDI to a DAW, where he would be more fluent in his creative process.
I also hope that this doesn’t deter the software makers from sharing features in advance of their release, which is a welcome change from past decades, where plans were tightly held until announced on release day. Not only have we seen this from Finale, but from Sibelius and the new Dorico program as well, not to mention the free MuseScore, all of which have given us tantalizing glimpses into what the future holds for their respective programs. Still, it’s interesting to consider if the tempest could have been avoided had MakeMusic simply folded the importing feature into a general release announcement, instead of highlighting the feature with a video that made it seem more slicker and revolutionary than it actually was.
It’s heartening that so many in our community support the rights of composers to earn a living from their work. It’s unfortunate that their opinions were guided by a handful of vocal composers who, however well-intentioned, misunderstood the capability of the technology and its iterative role in the continuum of progress. Add to that the messaging missteps from MakeMusic, and the general tendency of social media to amplify passionate viewpoints at the expense of a complete accounting of fact, and the result is the loss of a modest feature that would have been useful without any real gain in protection against copyright infringement.
Maybe next time the collective consciousness can be energized to help creators more effectively harness technological innovation in their endeavors, instead of inhibiting the tools that they use to produce that work in the first place.
Updated at 4:22 pm with a clarification regarding the concerns raised about embedded print restrictions in PDFs.