On the dangers in publishing music that is in the public domain.

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

[DGA Editor: the archive and backups of GALI contain no images for this article]

Editor’s note: the situation described in this article is not the first time we had to deal with the issues involved. Already in 1993, we had a similar situation with another publishers. See here.

Back in the old days before the Internet, we, the specialist guitar music publishers such as Editions Orphée, Tecla, Chanterelle and a few others, prided ourselves on our devotion to the promotion of 19th century guitar music. We spent thousand of hours in research in libraries, which required then actual travel to the library, spending money on lodging and food, not to mention the cost of travel, and then huge sums of money in preparing print editions of this music and making it available to the public. Some publishers such as Tecla and Chanterelle, preferred to publish photocopies of the original editions, warts and all.

I, as the owner and chief editor at Editions Orphée, thought this was a mistake, and wrote about this issue extensively in the guitar literature. My point of view was, and still is, based on the notion that unless we have access to a bona fide autograph manuscript, we have no way of knowing if the information depicted in an early printed edition, really convey that fleeting pipe dream called “The Author’s Intentions.” In some cases, for example the early 19th century editions of music by Andrey Sychra, we can be sure that the printed edition indeed reflect what Sychra actually wanted. The reason for this confidence is the fact that we now know that Sychra was the actual engraver of his own music. In the case of music by Sor, Giuliani. Carulli, Aguado, de Fossa and others, we have no idea to what extent the composer took part in the production of his music, and for all we know, the actual image on the page may have been altered by the engraver to suit the commercial interests of his employer — the publisher.  In many cases, it is possible to prove the notion. For example. The Three trios op. 18 of François de Fossa were published by Richault circa 1825. When preparing our edition of one of these trios, our editor discovered one discrepancy in the printed edition where the violin and guitar parts use a descending pattern in parallel fourths. That could not be the product of the “The Author’s Intentions” and sure enough, when we eventually found the autograph manuscript, we did discover that the passage should be in parallel sixths. Also, these editions are often full of printing errors.

This is the reason why, as an editor and publisher, I prefer to make a critical edition in which I make whatever corrections I deem necessary, and point out, usually in footnotes at the bottom of the page, what the original version was. I then prepare a modern edition, spend a great deal of time and effort in making it ready for the printer, and then pay the printer for creating a beautiful edition that users can enjoy holding in their hands and reading from. Of course, I charge a good price for my editions.

Back in the old days before the Internet, those people who did not wish to pay my price, or did not trust my editorial skills, had the option of retracing my steps and get copies of the original from the library in question. It was, in and of itself, a quite expensive proposition, which often cost more time and money than the price of my editions. The Internet changed all of that.

Several important libraries have put their entire guitar holdings on line, and one can obtain a copy of many early 19th century editions at the click of a mouse. For a while we thought that this was the end of printed editions of early 19th century guitar music. It did not take us long to realize that the rosy predictions by many on the eventual demise of print music were overly exaggerated. It turns out that still today, there are many users who resent the notion that all they get for free is a bunch of loose pages printed on their home printer, full of mistakes, and often difficult to read. The reason we are still in business 20 years later, is because there are enough people out there who appreciate what we do and are prepared to pay for the pleasure of availing themselves of our efforts, and often enough, for the product of our experience and knowledge and wisdom.

In recent years we have encountered another threat to our survival. We now have to deal with Russian, Korean, Ukrainian, Serbian and Vietnamese pirate sites who obtain copies of our editions, scan them and upload the scans to a web site were people all over the world can download it for free. The reason they get away with it, is that intellectual property protection by the governments of these countries is none existent, and we are too small, often a one-man operation, to be able to afford the tremendous costs in international legal battles. Sure enough, in spite of the threat of pirates, we are still in business. All the pirates can provide, once again, is a bunch of loose copies printed on a home printer. There are enough people who resent that and that is why we are still here.

Another phenomenon that is increasingly gaining legitimacy on the Internet, usually on the self-serving claim that their only interest is to provide the international guitar community with altruistic service, is that instead of providing links to libraries where people can download bad Xerox copies of the original editions, they engrave the music themselves, and post high resolutions PDF files of their new editions. In essence, this is the same idea as print publishers issuing new editions of the same music. Chanterelle, for example, is now issuing new editions of the music of Sor, completely re-engraved and edited, using a different editorial policy than many other publishers who published the music of Sor as Tecla, Suvini-Zerboni, Gendai Guitar, Doberman-Yppan and others. No one has copyright on public domain music, and all are free to do with it as they wish.

However, when a new editor is careful NOT to appropriate for himself the editorial work of others, he can, with all justification, obtain copyright protection, not to the original music, but to his own editorial work. I did. Some of these Internet publishers are not quite aware of this, with the result, that intentionally or otherwise, they arrogate the work of others without permission or credit. A case in point is the guitar99.com site, owned and operated by a certain Dr. Misha Trifunovic.

The site has started to compile an online library that so far, contains newly engraved copies of music by Sor, Giuliani, Tárrega, Albéniz, and others. One of the others is François de Fossa. I happen to be the person who discovered in 1980 the complete biography of this French military officer, and made his full color portraits available. I also published in 1990, for the first time since the early 19th century, editions of his music. These editions have sold thousands of copies during the last 21 years, and they are still one of the major best-sellers in our catalogue. Of course, I do not have a monopoly on the music of de Fossa, and anyone is free to publish new editions of this music. The reason guitar specialist publishers have refrained from doing so, is because we have an unspoken Gentlemen’s agreement between us, which is rarely broken. We do not step on each other’s toes. Chanterelle published the Complete Works of Tárrega and Sagreras, and I did not. As a matter of fact, 95% of the Chanterelle editions of this music is based on actual original copies of it in my own private collection. I could have published this music myself, but I respect my colleague and I have no desire to encroach in his work. I get the same consideration in return.

Dr. Trifunovic was never part of our Gentlemen’s agreement, and if he chose to publish the music of  De Fossa, we do not have any valid claim against him. Where we do have a legal claim, is when his edition is not based on the original, but rather on our own editions, in essence arrogating to himself the fruits of my work, without permission or credit. Here is one example:

Our edition of the Cinquièmre Faintaisie op. 12, sur l’air des Folies d’Espagne for solo guitar, was first published in the November 1981 issue of Soundboard VIII/4. We included it in our 1990 anthology, now permanently out of print. It is now published again, on a newly edited and newly engraved edition. The original of this music is available for free download from the Rischel & Birket-Smith collection at the Royal library in Copenhagen.

Here is the evidence that the copy of this music published by Dr. Trifunovic, is not based directly on the original, but on my edition of it. This example is from Variation 5, measure 12 of our edition, and measure 112 of the Trifunovic edition.


Our 1990 edition


in the same variation, the penultimate measure.


Our 1990 edition


Please note: my editorial emendations were NOT corrections of obvious misprints, but conscious changes I made based on my own private understanding of the music of de Fossa. I did not attempt to duplicate “what the composer wrote” but what I, based on my own musicological conclusions, decided that this is what the composer must have meant to write. As common in editorial practice, I gave the original in footnotes at the bottom of the page.

In these two instances, Dr. Trifunovic reproduced my own editorial changes, without comment. Going through the rest of his publications, I can point out many other similar arrogations of other people’s editorial work, not only in the music of de Fossa, but in all the rest of it. Frankly, I have better things to do with my time. But I think it is important that those guitarists who think that by accessing the guitar99 library they are getting good value for their mouse clicks, know what they are getting.

There are other issues involved with this site. For example, they have plans to publish a complete do-it-yourself instruction for classical guitar, directly impacting the fortunes of the thousands of guitar teachers world wide. I am not a guitar teacher myself, but if I were, I would not be happy to run into this sort of competition. It is bad enough trying to make a living.

Dr. Trifunovic would serve himself, and the guitar community he purports to support, if he considered the actual implications of his altruism. ‘Nugh said.

Last Modified: 02/28/2011


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