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In February 2006, a part-time Canadian music student established a modest, non-commercial website that used collaborative "wiki" tools, such as those used by Wikipedia, to create an online library of public domain musical scores. Within a matter of months, the site – called the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) – featured more than 1,000 musical scores for which the copyright had expired in Canada.
Nineteen months later – without any funding, sponsorship or promotion – the site had become the largest public domain music score library on the Internet, generating a million hits per day, featuring more than 15,000 scores by in excess of 1,000 composers, and adding 2,000 new scores each month.
Ten days ago, the IMSLP disappeared from the Internet. Universal Edition, an Austrian music publisher, retained a Toronto law firm to demand that the site block European users from accessing certain works and from adding new scores for which the copyright had not expired in Europe. The company noted that while the music scores entered the public domain in Canada 50 years after a composer's death, Europe's copyright term is 20 years longer.
On Oct. 19, the law firm's stated deadline, the student took the world's best public domain music scores site offline. While the site may resurface – at least one volunteer group has offered to host it – the case places the spotlight on the compliance challenges for Canadian websites facing competing legal requirements.