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Updated 3 January 2013



Why publish in the USA?

Copyright: The Usual Objection

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MMMSP History



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Since the early 1970s, the serious study of popular music has become an increasingly common part of the university curriculum. The International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) and the Cambridge University journal Popular Music have both existed since 1981.

Popular music studies have been dominated by scholars from the social sciences, as well as from media and cultural studies. There have been repeated calls for greater contribution from musicians and musicologists but the response has been slow. One important factor behind this relative lack of music-immanent studies in the field has been that the publication of analytical texts, which must by definition cite the music under analysis, has been extremely problematic. The problems can be summarised as follows:

  1. The vast majority of music which has to be cited is under copyright.
  2. The task of discovering who holds the publishing and/or mechanical rights to a work from which it is necessary to quote an extract ranges from difficult to impossible. Discovering how to contact the copyright holder is also a time-consuming activity.
  3. In cases where the name and address of the copyright holder for relevant areas of the world is discovered and request for permission to cite is written and sent, there is no guarantee of receiving an answer.
  4. In cases where an answer is forthcoming, the response from the more commercial publishers can often be "no" or demands are made for an amount which no small academic publishing house, let alone the academic himself/herself, can possibly afford.
  5. Commercial publishers often dump all editing and administrative responsibility in matters of music citation on to their authors, demanding that all copyright permission be obtained by the authors themselves.
  6. Books and articles containing music examples in notated form are much more difficult to page lay than those consisting of mere text. They are also more difficult to sell because the appearance of notation tends to put off potential readers who can't make sense of written music. Commercial publishers are usually reluctant to assume the extra costs that such page laying entails.

The effects of these problems on our understanding of music in contemporary culture can be summarised as follows:

  1. Published studies of  "the actual music" are extremely rare, studies of "everything but the music" very common.
  2. The false assumption, not uncommon in the academic world, is propagated that words are the only valid carrier of serious thought and that music is no more than an intangible string of sounds is reinforced (logocentricity).
  3. Talented young music scholars see no career prospects in an area where publication of research is so severely obstructed. Consequently, the development of serious inquiry into not only popular music but into contemporary culture in general is severly hampered in the long as well as short term.
  4. Music scholars wishing to develop methods of analysis but unable, for reasons already stated, to publish analyses of music under copyright are obliged to focus on music in the public domain, such redirection fuelling the false notion that music of either precapitalist societies or of bygone centuries, especially that of the euroclassical canon, are the only legitimate objects of serious study.
  5. Since research into the music of everyday life in contemporary society is so clearly hampered by the obstructions to publication enumerated earlier, general education in music is also adversely affected.


  1. To facilitate legal publication of scholarly texts by music academics who, as an important part of their work, engage in structural examination of music in the mass media, and who, for commercial reasons, are unable to publish the results of their research.
  2. To encourage promising younger scholars to pursue their studies of music in the mass media by offering them the opportunity to publish their work and consequently be recognised on an equal footing by the academic community.
  3. To increase the availability of reliable information and important ideas about the uses and effects of music in the mass media.


It is sometimes argued that publication and dissemination of scholarly writings containing quotations, in the form of musical notation, of musical work in the private domain will deprive copyright holders of revenue. As composers/authors and scholars/authors, all three of us on the board of MMMSP refute this objection as follows:

  1. In the era of online music resources (file sharing, streaming, pay-per-download, etc.), using notation as a means of citing, in academic texts, (parts of) musical works under copyright can never be a profitable venture.
  2. Very few musicians in the mass media use notation as a means of copying or storing another author's work with a view to reperforming it for payment: most use sound carriers, not sheet music or transcriptions, for such purposes.
  3. Musicians nevertheless wishing to acquire a sheet music copy of an individual work under copyright would be financially ill advised to buy an entire book, written for academic or educational purposes, just because the book happened to contain part, or even all, of that work. It is much cheaper and easier to buy the sheet music direct from the commercial publisher.
  4. Copyright owners (parts of) whose musical works are cited (as notation) in scholarly texts are much more likely to derive financial benefit from the serious attention paid to their work in those texts than to suffer any disadvantages, simply because readers of texts published by MMMSP may be made aware of music they did not previously know and be encouraged to pay for a recording of it.
  5. The democratic right to understand messages mediated in the mass media entails understanding how music works. It is impossible to understand how music works if it cannot be deconstructed. It is impossible to deconstruct music if its constituent parts cannot be presented to readers for analytical purposes. It is therefore inconsistent and hypocrictical to expect people to be able to sing a theme tune or advertising jingle but not allow them to reproduce it, not even as musical notation, for purposes of media awareness.
  6. MMMSP makes no profit from its activities and could not do so even if it wanted to (see above).
  7. No author published by MMMSP derives financial benefit from the sale of any book that is published in his/her name.


The MMMSP is registered in the United States of America partly for reasons of copyright legislation. Firstly, the notion of 'fair use' when it comes to citing works under copyright in scholarly or educational texts is more favourably applied in the USA than, for example, in most EU countries. Secondly, the MMMSP's own expert in matters of copyright (Bob Clarida) is a practising US attorney with media rights as one of his special areas of competence: any copyright problems that may arise would be best dealt with on his home turf. For these reasons the point of sale for MMMSP publications must be in the USA, and since none of the MMMSP's committee members have the time or facilities to take on ordering, accounting, printing, storage and distribution, the companies hired to carry out these tasks must also be located in the USA. Moreover, financial transactions between these companies and the MMMSP avoid international bank transfer charges. These considerations allow us to (a) publish scholarly texts which need to cite from musical works under copyright; (b) to keep production costs down.


Specialist academic books, like those we publish, are not best-sellers. That means short print runs for hard-copy versions. The shorter the print run, the more expensive the printing, binding and handling costs and the higher the price for the end user. That defeats the aim of making our books available to any serious student of mass media music anywhere in the world. Occasionally, however, we may produce a short run of actual hard-copy books, in which case we will advertise their availability on the publications page.


The problems of publishing academic books which, in notated form, cite works under copyright are discussed above. Finding a financially and legally viable form for this activity was a long and complex process. Not until Bob Clarida (media attorney in New York and co-author of Ten Little Title Tunes) researched the matter (1993-96) did it become clear that it would be possible to establish the MMMSP. Then we (Clarida and Tagg) needed to find out how to do so, after which we had to effectuate the actual incorporation, complete with statutes, bank account, etc. All the time, we were both full-time employees in quite demanding professions.

Having set up the MMMSP as a not-for-profit corporation, we had to discover the cheapest and simplest way of making our publications available for purchase. We agreed that online publishing presented the only really viable alternative.