Canadian creates online sheet music library

A young Canadian composer studying law at Harvard University has created an online music score library for thousands of pieces of classical music.

Internet Music Score Library Project has thousands of classical scores

Edward Guo, shown at the Harvard University campus where he studies, hasn't made a cent from the Internet Music Score Library Project. (CBC)

A young Canadian composer studying law at Harvard University has created an online music score library for thousands of pieces of classical music.

Edward Guo is revolutionizing how sheet music is distributed with the Internet Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).

Guo was 18 years old, studying law and composing music on the side, when he first got the idea. He recalls how little sheet music was available when he was a boy first studying music in China.

"I had this knowledge of programming computers and interest in music and I was a composer, so interested in scores, so [I] thought combine all of them and create this digital library," Guo told CBC News.

Now 24, Guo is a graduate of the New England Conservatory with a degree in composition, he plays the violin and piano, and is in his second year as a student at Harvard Law School.

The IMSLP makes it possible to download classical scores, from Mozart to Beethoven to Tchaikovsky, for free. About 100,000 works are available online on wiki media software.

Guo has made no money from the IMSLP project and says he is just one of a team that makes the scores available. He said he gets personal satisfaction from the thought that so many people have access to beautiful music.

Homer Seywerd, librarian and oboist with the Dundas Valley Orchestra, in the small southern Ontario town of Dundas, said the service has meant big savings for the amateur orchestra.

It can be time-consuming to download scores from IMSLP and photocopy them, but it makes a variety of classical pieces more accessible, Seywerd told CBC News.

"If you are time rich and money poor this makes sense," he said.

The DVO maintains its own sheet music library with 400 works available for free to similar volunteer organizations.

Music scores in public domain

What makes Guo's project possible is Canadian law that says works by classical composers are considered in public domain 50 years after their deaths.

The young inventor has run afoul of some European copyright holders, though as a Canadian citizen and current U.S. resident, he should fall under Canadian or U.S. law.

"We have had complaints, we have had a few dozen over the past year," Guo said. "But we have copyright reviewers to make sure we're not violating copyright."

In October 2007, Guo voluntarily closed IMSLP after complaints by an Austrian music publisher. Austria extends copyright 70 years after the death of a composer. The site reopened in 2008.

The site has been shut twice since the beginning of the year after complaints were lodged, but always reopened again.   

Guo argues music publishers and sheet music sellers must adapt to advancing technology.