A mind-bending take on intellectual property

On Facebook today, I came across a post that made me do a bit of a double take. At first, I thought the person who made the comment was one of those dudes who’s got a full six-pack, but lacks the little plastic thing that holds it all together.

The OP was someone who was looking to sell his collection of sheet music for a brass quintet. He’s got 400+ pieces, plus over 100 pieces for solo trumpet. Looks like a good deal for someone wanting to start a group, or add to their collection.

Then this guy posted the comment, “Do you have the rights to these pieces?”


I wasn’t the only one thinking that as someone else commented, basically saying, “Huh?”

This person responded that when he purchases sheet music, he wants to ensure the creator of the piece gets compensated for it.

Such virtue!

And shows how misguided these folks who believe in the concept of “intellectual property” can be.

Now I’m definitely¬†not an advocate of taking something someone else has written and peddling it off as your own. That’s plagiarism, plain and simple, and those who engage in it earn their reputation as scoundrels in my book every time.

But this idea that an idea is “property” has always baffled me. “Property” is something that can be exchanged between two or more parties. A car, a piece of land, a computer, etc.

An idea? A song? A poem?

Doesn’t fit the criteria. You can’t hold on to a song. You can’t grasp an idea – well not physically anyway.

Back to our friend who wants fair and equal treatment for composers the world over. Is this person who is in legal possession of these 500+ pieces of music supposed to contact each composer or arranger of these pieces, let them know they’re selling their music for pennies on the dollar to another party/parties, and offer to let them in on the deal?

If I was the composer of a piece of music, I think I would be insulted by such a proposal. It’s ridiculous to even think about it for longer than 15 seconds.

The truth is this person who’s in possession of the sheet music owns the only legitimate property in this scenario. Did you ever notice in disputes involving intellectual property, the offended party never asks for their song, idea, poem, etc. back? It’s impossible. They always seek restitution in the form of money. Always money.

So when you get down to it, an intellectual property dispute isn’t about the fictional property at all. It’s always about actual property: money. Something that can be changed hands between two or more parties.

At any rate, I discussed the topic of intellectual property on the Musicpreneur podcast waaaay back in 2017.

Here it is republished in its original format for your listening displeasure.