Published: October 31, 2005

Composers pressure large music Web site to cease and desist

A Web site that published hundreds of copyright pipe tunes has closed after receiving complaints and legal warnings from several of the world’s pre-eminent composers. “Bagpipetunes.net,” run by Jeff Forrester of Tennessee, has been deluged since last Friday with messages and telephone calls from irate composers alleging copyright infringement because of the site’s unauthorized republication of music in electronic formats.

The site was shut down on Sunday, replaced with a pointed message from Forrester that accuses Bill Livingstone, Roddy “R.S.” MacDonald, and Bob Worrall of “selfishness and greediness” for requesting that their material be removed from Bagpipetunes.net.

According to North American copyright law, original material cannot be reproduced without due compensation to or expressed consent of the artist while the creator is alive and until 50 years after the artist’s death. Forrester contends that his site is nothing more than a resource library, and therefore should be allowed dispensation from the law.

“Apart from the questions of the nature and extent of ‘damage’ and economic considerations, it’s simply wrong to steal the intellectual property of another,” says Livingstone. “It’s a hell of a problem, and the mainstream music industry has struggled long and hard with little success to stop the pirating of their products, but that doesn’t give the practice validity. The harm is the disincentive to composers with talent and merit. They’ll be dissuaded from putting in the untold hours of effort that it takes to compose, compile and publish a collection, if they know that these websites will make less likely that they will even recover the costs of the project.”

In a message to Livingstone, Jeff Forrester wrote, “I shut the site down because I don’t have time to baby-sit people like you. I barely had to time to take care of it before you and your cronies started whining.”

Bruce Gandy’s music was also reproduced on Bagpipetunes.net, and he was also part of the composers’ coalition to correct the problem.

“In the end, it’s illegal and morally wrong and I am quite happy to do what I can to help push this,” Gandy says.

“I agree in principle with them concerning copyright, but they are missing the big picture, not to mention the law in the case of my site,” says Forrester. “Bagpipe music is not a large venue, but has a narrow niche in the musical industry. My site, rather than hurt sales, would have served to increase popularity and exposure and, by extension, help sales. People see one tune by a composer and like it so much that they go buy their book. The only option I was given was the immediate and unconditional removal of the tunes. They believed they had exclusive and unconditional copyright of their tunes and that was it. The fact is that they do not have exclusive and unlimited rights to their tunes. If that were a fact then public libraries and archives could not exist. There are exclusions and I believe my site fell under one of them.”

The issue of pipe music copyright infringement has been around since Xerography became widespread and readily available in the 1950s. The advent of the Internet in the 1990s took the issue to new heights with, on the one hand, popular composers chasing unauthorized Web sites carrying their original work and, on the other hand, many novice composers welcoming the opportunity to have their unknown work seen.

“The difference from photocopying is really only a matter of degree,” Livingstone continues. “When I published my first book [in the 1980s], I included a plea that pipers refrain from photocopying the tunes as it rendered less likely the publication of other books of pipe music. It was a significant enough problem then to be a concern, but the ability to click on a site and obtain thousands of tunes at once is a massive exacerbation of the issue.

“The piping world has changed. Just take a look at the huge increase in the sales of all things related to bagpipes. There are a lot of very expensive automobiles and homes which owe their existence to bagpipes. The composers of music are no less entitled to fair compensation for their contribution to the whole field than other participants. Anyway, if the market for music books is drying up, it’s largely because of the activities of copyright thieves.”

Before it was closed, Bagpipetunes.net carried thousands of electronic scores of both copyright and non-copyright tunes. In addition to the tunes of current composers, the site included compositions by deceased luminaries, such as Donald MacLeod, whose tunes are copyright of his estate until 2030, 50 years after his death.

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