Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On Piracy by Chuck Sher

As you might be aware, in recent years many music books, including all of Sher Music books, have been uploaded onto file-sharing, "torrent" sites, all over the internet. This was done without our permission and is illegal as well as just plain wrong. We understand that the temptation to get "something for nothing" might be hard to resist in these economic times, but here's why we believe you should boycott these pirated versions of our books.

Sher Music Co. remains what it was when it started in 1979---a small business by musicians, for musicians. Putting together a legal, accurate, high-quality fake book (such as The New Real Books) takes us about two years of intense effort and expense: countless hours of finding and listening to records to discover the best tunes to include, then tracking down the publishers, doing all the business negotiations, meticulously transcribing the tunes, and re-working each chart until it is the most complete and useful version of the tune possible. Then we painstakingly copy them, proofread them, and road-test them with our musician friends at jam sessions and rehearsals. We often consult with the composers to get any feedback they might have, then revise them, re-copy them, paste them up in book form, and proofread them over and over until they are perfect. And that doesn't include producing book covers, promoting the books after they are out, and the daily hassles and expenses of running a business. There are blood, sweat and tears on every page. (And great joy too, of course. We love what we do!)

If you produce, copy or download a pirated version of our fakebooks, you are stealing the fruits of years of effort that went into creating them. You are also stealing money from your favorite jazz artists. Every six months we faithfully send fair royalty payments to all the publishers and composers of the tunes in our books. By downloading these pirated copies, you are stealing from Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Richie Beirach, McCoy Tyner and hundreds of other less-well-known composers who count on these royalties to pay their bills. You wouldn't walk into Wayne's living room and take his stereo, even if you knew you could get away with it, right? Well, these illegal downloads are just as much an act of theft as any street crime.

The same is true for our educational books. Mark Levine, for example, has written the most important jazz theory book ever published. It took him years to put it all down on paper (not to mention the decades of studying, transcribing, practicing and gigging that the book is based on) and he deserves to reap some reward for that effort. Downloading illegal, free versions of his books is nothing more or less than stealing.

The effect of this is not hard to imagine. Our ability to produce new publications has been seriously compromised by the thousands and thousands of our books that have been downloaded for free. Among other things that means that we cannot afford to produce any more big fake books, since the odds of our being able to recoup our expenses is now slim to none. So it is not only Sher Music Co. that is losing, but also every musician who is now missing out on what could have been published if people had simply boycotted illegal downloads.

How can you tell if a book on the internet is illegal? Simple---if the download is free, it is by definition illegal since we obviously aren't going to get paid for it. We do now have digital versions of 16 of our books available for sale through Amazon, the iTunes bookstore, etc. but any free downloads are simply theft. (See the ebook page at www.shermusic.com for details.)

Piracy of musicians' recorded efforts are, of course, also widespread on the internet. But here too, you have legal, moral alternatives. For example, for about $13 a month, you can be a subscriber to Rhapsody, an online music service, where you will be able to listen to thousands of CDs at the push of a button. Rhapsody, of course, pays royalties for every use of every tune, eliminating the moral dilemma of using illegal download sites. (See www.listen.com for details.)

These are perilous times on our beautiful planet. The forces of greed and indifference to human suffering are increasingly powerful, and the only countervailing force is the basic goodness inherent in each of us. So we would encourage you to exercise your better nature: work for a more just and peaceful world, be kind in all your dealings with people, and use your purchasing power to support honest, life-affirming products, like the ones produced at Sher Music Co. You'll feel better. (Revised 4/3/11)

Chuck Sher is a jazz bassist, author of several bass instruction books and the owner of Sher Music Co., publisher of high-quality jazz and Latin music books (www.shermusic.com).


Anonymous said...

Well said, Chuck.

Thank you for addressing this issue. It is interesting to me that, in my experience, the ones who share these illegal versions are aspiring musicians themselves. They do not realize that their actions--proliferating illegal or unathorized copies--undermine the entire print music industry. Do they expect to make money someday by publishing their own music or text books? What will they do when someone steals their music?

I have raised awareness locally, which has inspired university professors to address the issue in class and with their students. If we continue to sound the alarm, maybe we can at least get people to think twice before making illegal copies.

Thanks again, Chuck.

Jett Cheek, Jazz Buyer
Pender's Music Company

Susan Palmer said...

Thank you for posting this Chuck. As a musician, author, publisher and educator, this issue affects me personally.

Please continue to share your views and provide information for us to pass along to our students.

Susan Palmer
Lead Cat Press

Phil Smith said...


I was saddened to read this and your interview as posted on your site today, and to realize that piracy may have put an end to any new Sher fakebooks. What a tragic, but understandable, loss. This especially hit home as I had just been reading an interview with a favorite musician of mine, who has now given up recording new material for the same reason.

The piracy lovers seem to fall into three groups:

1. The Unaware. Some people are honestly completely unaware that what they are doing is illegal/immoral.

2. The Indifferent. This group's motto is: "If technology makes it possible, it must be legal." They follow the path of least resistance, so if there was even a slight disincentive to avoid piracy, it might have an effect.

3. The Combative. You will not change these minds. These are the Lawrence Lessigs of the world, who believe that 'information is meant to be free' and that artists have plenty of other income sources without having to rely on income from copyrighted recordings, compositions, etc.

Can you tell that I am also fed up with piracy?

I don't offer any solutions here, just my sympathies and my thanks to you & Sher Music for living by the letter of the law and adhering to a moral code. Here's hoping that you are able to resume publishing some great new titles in the near future!

Phil Smith
Milwaukee, WI

Anonymous said...

With the launch of products like the iPad, piracy of music books is going exponential.

Many applications e.g. GigBook will enable products like the iPad to catalog and manipulate PDF downloaded fake books, most of which are illegal.

The technologist make money. The hardware sellers sell product, the applications developers sell software. They profit from the pirated content. The musicians, writers, composers and publishers get nothing. Sad.

Jan said...

It's all true, but publishers like yourself ignored the fact,that there is a great need for pdf books and forgot to turn to this market segment. I endorse the fact that sher has entered the amazon-kindle market and is making books more obtainable.
Many musicians welcome things and are willing to pay. This way is in a better Place (easier to reach, you browse for it from your home, studio...) and for a great price as well. I loved the randy vincent book and can only hope other sher books will make it to kindle or other pdf sources, legally!

William Nicholson said...

Actually, I'm a bit confused why - given the above blog - some of the websites listed on Sher Music Books' page about digital books http://www.shermusic.com/new/digital_books.shtml appear to provide access to pirate content. I'm thinking about scribd specifically but there were a few others. (Unfortunately, I don't have time to run through the list to check which were the dodgy ones again.) For example, I think there was a badly scanned copy of the entire Latin Bass book for free on scribd.com.

Chuck Sher said...

Being technologically-challenged, I was just told how to comment on these comments. Mr. Nicholson's question about scribd.com is unfortunately true. I am not in charge of where my digital books get sold and scribd does sell our legal versions, but along with that they post illegal things too, which I have complained about and scribd has removed, one at a time. Unfortunately, the law does not require sites to block future postings of the same illegal scans, so with scribd, and others, I request that a posting be eliminated but 3 more show up the next week. I simply don't have time to monitor the 100 torrent sites to see if each one of our books might be there illegally. If someone has a brilliant idea on how to proceed with this, it would be much appreciated! Thanks to you all for your moral support and for buying the "Real" thing - Chuck Sher

UK_IN_US - 007.5 said...

That really is sad, Chuck. I am personally a young (13) jazz musician, owning a copy of the real easy book in Bb and Eb. I have seen the torrent sites in question but can't get them to work. Good thing, too!

John Hancotte said...

Hopefully, we mature (I'm 50, so if I'm not there yet, help me) and honorable musicians can be a positive influence on younger ones, as well as our own children. I try to set an example in my own actions. Typically, the pirated versions of printed and other media are far inferior to the legal ones. I like my copies to be nice and legible. Your company certainly raised the bar on this type of resource. For this we should all be grateful.

John Hancotte
Bassist in Atlanta, GA

Anonymous said...

Chuck Sher said...

Someone wrote a question about a school photocopying pages of our books for their students if they already bought the book themselves. The situation is that I cannot give permission to photocopy tunes that I don't own. You would need the copyright holder's permission for that. For our instructional books, please write shermuse@gmail.com and I will be happy to consider that sort of usage on a case-by-case basis. Hope that clears things up - Chuck Sher