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 atwww.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).

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