Every time I set foot into a French library, I am full of glorious anticipation. Imagine, all of those books and scores that I can’t possibly access in the States! All of those obscure French songs that I can now sing because of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France!
Or would be able to sing, if the copyright laws weren’t so insane.
I wonder what makes it so much different here than in the U.S. At the Northwestern Library, if it was in the stacks, you could make a copy of it, as many pages as you wanted, no matter how long the composer had been dead or when the piece was written. I’ve performed all kinds of contemporary-ish pieces off of photocopies from the library.
But here, a piece only enters the public domain when the composer has been dead for seventy years. Actually, it may be exactly the same in the States, but nobody is paying attention. And you know why that is? Because in an American music library, you can browse the stacks, pick out books AND make photocopies, all by yourself. In the Richelieu library of the BnF, you have to go hunting through the paper catalogue (admittedly, pretty thrilling–I don’t know if I’ve ever really used a real card catalogue, and some of the cards I looked at hadn’t been altered since 1953. You can, of course, use an online catalogue, but where’s the fun in that?), then write down the information for the score you want (plus your name and complete address, which means that today I filled out my name and address three times), and give it to the librarian, who goes back into the stacks and finds it for you.
When I had figured out which arias I wanted to copy, I had to bring the scores back up to the front, where the librarian and her assistant debated whether I could make copies. It turned out that Hahn, Honegger, and Lafarge all died less than seventy years ago, which means that I could photocopy at most 10% of the score (which luckily was more than enough). But I couldn’t copy them myself–I had to let the librarians take the scores back to make the copies and then I could come back tomorrow to pick them up. Good grief, as they say.
Personally, I think when they told me I could only photocopy 18 pages of Reynaldo Hahn’s Ciboulette, I should have said, “OH YEAH? THAT’S WHAT YOU THINK!”
Maybe next time.
P.S. “AH OUI? C’EST CE QUE TU PENSES!”