Elogio de la fotocopia / Praise of Photocopy

(Article published in the magazine Doce Notas corresponding to the months of February-March 2000)

Publishing is, without a doubt, one of the many pending issues that contemporary music, in general, and Spanish music, in particular, have dragged on for decades and prevent it from "promoting" its full normalization, both among the public and among interpreters themselves. Without its dissemination among the latter through printed copies that, sooner or later, may end up generating a reading habit and thus favoring its interpretation, it will be difficult for contemporary music to be programmed sufficiently to alleviate, through its greater dissemination, its intrinsic difficulty of perception and understanding.
In addition, and although the composer can do little to intervene directly or indirectly in the programming -unless, due to certain privileges, he has a certain decision-making capacity over it- of the different cycles, seasons and festivals, they do usually have it -and a lot, especially in the latter when they are specialized in contemporary creation- the powerful and influential publishers that, naturally, favor the presence of the authors whose works they have acquired and with whom they share, throughout their lives and, after his death, during the years of ownership legally stipulated for their heirs, the part of the copyright that, by contract, has been agreed.
But the number of authors embraced in the warm shelter of a publisher is minimal, so most of the composers -among whom I count myself, since, except for a few works in my catalogue, the vast majority remain unpublished- must to solve in its own way the tremendous problem that a diffusion of the composed works supposes that ensures their survival beyond their creation and their first hearing.
It is known that one thinks about the party according to what one does in it. I fully understand and share the anger of publishers against photocopying, when it seriously threatens their interests and even discourages them (saturated as they are with contemporary music "to recycle" in their warehouses) from undertaking new editions; but fortunately, composers "orphaned" by a publisher have, thanks to photocopying, an efficient and affordable procedure to be able to spread our music, although we cannot get out of a domestic territory that way, similar to that of "spreading by friendship" used by some publishing companies specializing in home sales. What, in any case, is a reason for reflection for me, is that my published music is not doing much better, judging by the liquidations that, from time to time, I receive. So?
Is publishing really necessary for music that, even when edited, is in short supply because it is scarcely in demand? Or, put another way: is publishing really necessary to guarantee the survival of the work, as it was until, say, the first half of the 20th century? Personally, I have been debating that doubt for a long time, without until now having dared to take the step of putting with it, and with it, the rights that it may produce in the future, in hands other than mine. The experience that, in this sense, I have inherited from my illustrious grandfather has been rather negative -leonine contracts, works sold out years ago and never reprinted...-, and this, together with my own, contributes to my resisting certain practices and uses that do not inspire much confidence.
For all these reasons, I have long maintained a kind of home self-publishing that, with photocopying as a basic support, has made it possible until now for my works to reach everyone who has been interested in it and has been able to let me know. This last premise is, naturally, the main weak point of the matter: how to get them to those who are interested, but who cannot or do not know how to communicate it to me? In other words, by my own means and with all the limitations imaginable, derived from having chosen the opposite direction to the usual one, I have reached the same dead end that some large publishers have run into: the distribution of funds, which effectively organized should guarantee the presence of their authors' works in establishments dedicated to the sale of printed music (which is not the case, far from it, in most cases: I will never forget an occasion in which the establishment that I went to acquire a certain work took weeks to be able to supply me, after the corresponding request... a photocopy of it, sent by the publisher itself -not Spanish, by the way-).
While the enlightened answer arrives, I take pleasure in imagining something that, as a good devotee of Jules Verne that I was in my adolescence, I do not think impossible, although it is still somewhat distant in part: the dissemination of the catalog of works, with as much information about the same (template, duration and any data of interest to potential performers), via the Internet, and the substitution of the original printed paper for the computer support, for, after the mandatory authorization of the author and payment of the amount stipulated by the interested user, be transferred to their own paper through their own printer. The first part of this ideal technological future, that relating to the use of the Internet as a vehicle for disseminating works, is now a happy reality, as it is the usual practice of many authors or of the entities in charge of managing their rights.
In any case, accepting the a priori condemnation of photocopying so drastically advocated by publishers would mean implicitly acknowledging all its drawbacks and none of its advantages. I think that, instead of focusing the debate on how to eradicate such a terrible plague, it would be more useful -and let's not say more ethical- to approach it from the positive side, and arrive, through the correct education of our children and students, at a use reasoned, and never to an indiscriminate abuse, of photocopying as an effective procedure to achieve what is unfeasible by other means. But for this it seems to me essential that educators and publishers reach a compromise that makes it reasonable: no one would mind paying a little more for the pleasure of enjoying a well edited and bound work (personally, I hate worms, tubes and spirals) , and from the classroom it would be easy to instill in students the love of legally printed music, if music publishers and establishments agreed to set reasonable prices, instead of making the product more and more expensive to offset the alleged losses that the nefarious vice of the photocopy involves. Because one thing is clear: music is generally expensive, and in most cases unjustifiably expensive, which arbitrarily varies from one publisher and from one country to another. And, if not, the French editions are there to prove it, whose price was already exorbitant for many years before the photocopy became toner and paper and lived among us.