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27 January 2013

How to Scan Sheet Music - Update

A couple of years ago I had a go at scanning in some sheet music I own. I had some great ideas about going digital that never amounted to anything. I even shared with you a run-down of what I'd learnt in doing my little trial. Reading it back, I see that I was bogged down in the nuts and bolts of how I'd physically do it; The post is full of mind-numbing technical detail that I wasn't able to properly try out due to lack of eReading devices.

Despite a plea for someone to buy me an iPad... nobody ever did. :-(

"Sampling: Theft or Tribute?"
Is sharing scanned sheet music legal?

Time has moved on. I now own a Kindle and this weekend I booked in some time on Mrs Uke's iPad to give scanning another go. Here's what I learnt...

Here's an image from early on in the scanning process. Thanks to Windows 8, my
old scanner no longer works. Fortunately, my printer is a combined printer-scanner.
I set it to 300dpi and scanned as JPG using the best JPG quality setting it had. The
original was a dog-eared yellowy mildewed page. Here's "almost" the original scan. I've
actually rotated the picture here by 180 degrees and resaved. It's a pretty good scan.
The original image file size was 2,736Kb and the picture here is 1,337Kb after being
resaved. The image is a giant 2550 x 3510 pixels, way too big for displaying on an
iPad. I wanted to resize, trim and tweak. How would it look once I'd processed it?
Read on...

The first thing I did was to resize the scanned image to 1024 x 768 which meant
shrinking the picture to about a third of its original scanned size. In theory, this is
the perfect size for display on an iPad. Then I adjusted the image white-black
levels to get the background as close to pure white as I could and the ink as
close to black as I could. My final step was to select all the whitish area and to
delete it so that the white background was truly white. If anything was going
to ruin this image, then this was going to be it. Actually, as you can see,
the results aren't too bad. The file size dropped right down to 241Kb. I've
lost a lot of the detail of the original, but without zooming in, I wouldn't have
been able to see this on the iPad anyway.

In order to view this image on the iPad, I bundled it in a PDF and emailed the file to myself.
Here's me viewing the file on the iPad. It's small, but actually not too bad. You can make
out the music, words and uke tabs. I'd prefer a larger display than the iPad has, but
this has potential!

I couldn't resist sending that same PDF to my Kindle to see what it would look like.
The Kindle has a physically smaller screen, but significantly, it also has a lower resolution.
It's a lot harder to read, but if you squint, I think you can make it out too!

So there you have it. Experiment over! I think it has been a success! Let's move on. As part of doing all this I started worrying about copyright infringement and did some research into what I can and can't do. To be honest, I'm still unclear. I was considering perhaps sharing with you some scans of complete songs that are out of copyright. The problem is that it's not at all clear which songs are out of copyright and there doesn't seem to be anyone to ask. I'm going to err of the side of caution for now and not share.

"King Uke - Island Warrior!"

Here's what I think I've learnt from reading through the spaghetti that is UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988. The rules aren't clear to the lay-man and there seem to be some complications specific to sheet music. Remember that I am not an expert in Law!

  • Copyright on a song expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year that the author dies. If there is more than one author, then it ends 70 years after the death of the last author. The authors are the names that you often see at the top or sometimes at the bottom of sheet music stating who created the lyrics and music. If the author isn't known then copyright expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year that the song was first published. Sheet music is one form of publishing.
  • Like the rest of us, sheet music publishers are subject to copyright law. They must agree terms with with the author prior to publishing the author's work. In return for the exclusive right to publish they typically pay royalties to the author. My understanding is that the copyright date you often find at the bottom of sheet music (with a copyright symbol and the publisher's name) is the date that the publisher and author think the copyright is effective from. I guess you might be able to use this as the date of publication in the case where the author is unknown?
  • Often sheet music has credits for the arrangement or tabbing of the sheet music. Unfortunately for tabbers and arrangers, it doesn’t look like you have any special rights through copyright law.
  • And of course, older sheet music often comes with fantastic artwork on the cover. This is subject to copyright in the same way that song itself is. I assume that the original artist owns the copyright to the picture unless stated otherwise. Artist's details are rarely printed on sheet music making this potentially more of a copyright minefield than the music itself. :-s
  • If the song is not within copyright then the song and sheet music is considered "Public Domain" and free to distribute.

The song I've used to do my little scanning experiment above is "My Girl's a Yorkshire Girl", a song written in 1908 by Clarence Wainwright Murphy (1875-1913) and Dan Lipton (1873-1935). Dudley Bayford is credited with the arrangement. The sheet music I have was published as part of volume of apparently unrelated songs by Francis, Day & Hunter Ltd. They produced a number of collections like this often recycling many of the same old songs. I don’t have the complete book (just pages 35-186) so I can’t tell you when it was published or what it was called, but it is likely to have been published circa 1920.

At face value, this song is Public Domain; the authors died more than 70 years ago. The only people who might know for certain are publishers Francis, Day and Hunter. This business no longer exists and I'm uncertain as to who they sold their catalogue of copyright materials to. It could be EMI. It could be Warner. How would I find this out? Even if I did find the current owners of the original publishing rights, how would they know themselves that copyright had lapsed? Would they tell me if they did know? Gah!

Like I said... this is a minefield...

You never saw me...

Until the next time...


  1. If anybody is husband and I are working on a small computer system (about 4 x 5 inches) that would hold all of the sheet music and be connected to a screen on your music stand, as well as foot pads to change the pages (with the final intent to sell the units on a per order basis with the option to ship your music to me so I can scan it in then return it with your product). I am trying to also incorporate the ability to add notations while still seeing everything clearly (we are looking at a screen that is the same size as your average page of sheet music). If you are interested in learning more, helping, or just being kept up to date...let me know

  2. I'd love to know more Heather! Sounds interesting... Can you drop me a message through my Google+ profile?