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Apple’s iTunes helps uncover copyright infringement in the world of classical music

February 28th, 2007 · No Comments ·

Earlier in February a classical-music fan put Ms. Hatto’s “Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Studies” into his computer to transfer it with the help of iTunes to his iPod. But this surprise, the software identified the CD as one by another pianist, Laszlo Simon. In fact, 10 of the tracks were indeed from a 1987 recording by Laszlo Simon on BIS Records (BIS-CD-369 – Total Time: 65’05 – Release: 1987-01)s


iTunes queries a database in California. The database recognizes a CD by the:

1) number of tracks it has, AND

2) the length of each of those tracks.

When combined, the two methods form a mathematial fingerprint that is unique for every CD that has more than about five songs


Joyce Hatto retired from playing in public in the 1970s after being stricken with cancer. What is interesting, however, is that she continued playing and recorded more than 100 CDs on a small British label directed by her husband, William Barrington-Coupe. She died during 2006 and this resulted in her husband wanting to give Ms. Hatto a great end to an unfairly overlooked career.

To make a long story short, he copied pieces played by Laszlo Simon onto the CD being released as “Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Studies” listing Ms. Hatto as the playing artist.

William Barrington-Coupe’s own recording company is quite small and in a letter to Robert von Bahr he wrote that the number of recordings sold by his company (including non-Hatto discs) between April 2006 and the time of writing only number 5595. The number of recordings sold in the previous year was only 3051.

However, BIS Record is not a giant either. Robert von Bahr founded the firm under the name of “Grammofon AB BIS” in 1973. It is located in Åkersberga, Sweden and has today about 1700 CD titles on its backlist.

BIS Records – a small Swedish label for classical music

Robert von Bahr has indicated that whilst this is a very unfortunate copyright infrignment case, his company does not intend to press charges:

Hatto’s Liszt may be Simon’s – public letter by Robert von Bahr


The above is an unhappy occurrence of copyright infringement. Also, it indicates that a software package programmed to access a database managed and maintained by Gracenote does not just help to label contents on a CD accurately. As importantly, it resulted in the discovery of a scandal surrounding the recordings of Joyce Hatto, a British pianist with a cult following.

The whole hoax was reported by:

Gramophone, a UK classical-music magazine – ‘I did it for my wife’ – Joyce Hatto exclusive, William Barrington-Coupe confesses 2006-02-26

Incidently, as important is that the datebase maintained by Gracenote allowing iTunes to recognize a CD put in a computer by querying a database mainained in California. This can, of course, be used for other purposes as well even some more sinister ones which we talk about soon.


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