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Dick Greenhaus and the Digital Trad

11 Oct 17 - 09:39 PM (#3881673)
Subject: Folklore: Dick Greenhouse and the Digital Trad
From: GUEST,.gargoyle

Nice original article in the New York Times 1996 about Dick Greenhouse and the Digital Traditions database.

I posted it into the middle of another current thread but I am afraid it will be lost in the shuffle and, therefore, a thread of its own.

Thank you...Dick, Susan, Max, Joe and all the clones. It is quite a miracle.

September 12, 1996

Copyright Threat Gags Folk Music Site

When It Comes to Folk Music, Rights Get Murky

The oral tradition of folk music has been gagged, at least temporarily, in cyberspace.

Dick Greenhaus, curator of The Digital Tradition, a popular Web-based archive of more than 5,600 folk songs, says the site was silenced in July after its host was challenged for copyright violations.

Housed on a server at the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, popularly known by the acronym PARC, the non-commercial Digital Tradition site billed itself as the world's largest available folk song resource.
Averaging about 5,000 hits per day, its database of lyrics -- from the beloved to the obscure -- could be searched by title or keyword. About half the ballads, chants and shanties were accompanied by a simple melody line that would play on a PC's built-in speaker.

It met its demise in yet another collision between those who distribute information on the Internet and those who declare they own it.

While the framework of The Digital Tradition site remains accessible and its search engine still yields song titles, attempts to extract the site's text and instrumental contents fail.

PARC pulled the plug on the heart of the free site, Greenhaus said, immediately after Firebird Arts and Music of Oregon Inc. phoned the California facility and claimed improper publication of select works by the late Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers. Also at issue, he said, were a few pieces of "filk music," a genre whose themes are based on Star Trek and other computer-age sources.

Greenhaus, a freelance technical editor and longtime folk fanatic, readily agreed that it would have been easy for Steve Putz, who launched the Web site at PARC in October 1993, to remove the troublesome tunes from the server there.

Nor does he fault the PARC for opting instead to stifle the entire effort, a decision he views as "prudent."
"Xerox isn't going to be a crusader," he said. "This was purely a fear of frivolous litigation. Xerox suddenly realized that, being people with deep pockets, they were vulnerable."

Xerox suddenly realized that, being people with deep pockets, they were vulnerable.

Dick Greenhaus        

Putz referred inquiries to a PARC spokesperson, who did not respond to repeated requests for information. The company is understandably hypersensitive to intellectual-property disputes after witnessing the graphical user interface it developed (known as WIMP, for window-icon-menu-pointing device) become the focus of a protracted Apple-Microsoft court battle, with the two computer giants fighting over the ownership of something Xerox had created.

Firebird Music, which probably appropriated its name from the Russian folk tale that served as the basis for a Stravinsky-scored ballet, also declined to comment.

Firebird's President Responds:
Teri Lee, president of Firebird Arts and Music of Oregon Inc. responded to this column on September 16.
Teri Lee -- Firebird's owner, according to sources -- would not confirm her role at the company and angrily refused to answer any queries. Before hanging up, she did raise the name of PARC as a potential authority on the topic.

Firebird, which is based in Portland, peddles folk, filk and fantasy recordings and publications, including the Stan Rogers songbook, through a sparsely annotated online catalog.

But if Firebird was indeed trying to defend copyrighted Rogers compositions, the validity of its action is being called into question.

Rogers died in 1983 and his widow, Ariel, owns the rights to virtually all of his work. Her company, Fogarty's Cove Music, is the publisher of his songbook.
From her office in Hamilton, Ontario, Mrs. Rogers said she had never heard of Firebird and that she had previously granted permission to Greenhaus to put samples of Stan's songwriting on the Internet.
"I'm not aware of The Digital Tradition acting irresponsibly," she said. "I'm a little surprised to hear of this."

Greenhaus's site is a self-described "not-for-profit, not-for-sale, not-for-glory cooperative endeavor" that carries on the centuries-old practice of preserving classic songs in a community through open performance -- except that in this case, the music is displayed rather than played.

Unlike many proponents of the free transmission of information on the Internet, Greenhaus does not attack the applicability of old-world copyright law to the new terrain of cyberspace. Instead, he wonders how the concept of intellectual property can pertain to the very public domain of folk music.

PARC pulled the plug on the heart of the free site after an Oregon-based company questioned publication of select works by the late Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers.

"The real problem," he added, "is that anyone can copyright anything. The early folk song collectors (of the 20th Century) copyrighted everything in sight." He pointed out that many vintage ditties, including "Greensleeves," have been registered recently.
The Digital Tradition's policy has been to get a composer's permission whenever possible -- Greenhaus earned Ariel Rogers' assent during a chance encounter -- and to remove immediately any verifiable violators.

Determining ownership of a song that has repeatedly mutated through the ages can be a difficult task, and it is not yet clear whether this will prove to be a blessing or a curse for a venture like Greenhaus's.
Roger McGuinn, founder of the pioneering folk-rock group The Byrds and creator of the Folk Den site on the Web, said he "was aware of The Digital Tradition shutdown."

"It's very sad," he said. "But then, they had Paul Simon tunes in there."

Greenhaus admitted that one of his 100-plus contributors might well have supplied a Simon song. He dismissed the issue, saying "I have zero interest in pop music," and he promised to delete the entry if Simon complained. He also repeated the charge, heard often in folk circles, that Simon had copyrighted Martin Carthy's arrangement of the classic "Scarborough Fair."
Greenhaus is resolved to restore The Digital Tradition, both on the Web and as an FTP site, which also has been shut down. He has already received several offers by people willing to host the archive, and he said he hoped to be back on the Internet before the end of the month.

In the meantime, he continues to operate the archive much as he did when it first began. Those who mail formatted disks to him at his Greenwich, Conn., address will receive a copy of the database in return. (Detailed instructions appear on what remains of the Web site.)
The Digital Tradition began in 1988 as a way to consolidate and lighten the weighty and disorganized volumes of word-processor-based song sheets that friends would haul to folk fests.

Greenhaus, now 67, undertook the project despite his assertion that "I have a rumpled personality."
A trained chemist and former engineer, he also is a former habitu? of the Village folk scene of the 50s. He was an accomplished enough guitarist and banjo player to work his way though college with his musical skills.
Once the site is relaunched, Greenhaus will supplement it with 400 "new" songs, the backlog he has amassed since the plug was pulled on the PARC server. He will also try to notify the estimated 3,000 sites with links to The Digital Tradition that it has a new URL.
"We are going to get back on the Net," he vowed.

The Digital Tradition Folk Song Database has resurfaced in a new home. The searchable repository for folk-song lyrics and melodies, which was shuttered last July after a copyright dispute that was detailed in arts@large, was relaunched last fall. It has since grown to 6,500 from 5,600 songs and continues to offer material by the Canadian musician Stan Rogers. The publication of his work on the original Web site helped lead to its demise.

Dick Greenhaus, curator of the site, said it is receiving about 500,000 hits per month, more than triple the traffic of its previous location. He also has received the blessings of an additional 15 or 20 songwriters to post their work. "Our efforts to secure permissions is moving along, with about 100 composers and authors on board," Greenhaus said.

"Oddly enough, the biggest problem we have with formal permissions comes from the old left-wing crowd," Greenhaus said. "We've had several informal OKs with a but-don't-tell-my-publisher proviso." He is optimistic that the number of composer approvals will increase again soon. "I add more in the summertime because I see more people at festivals," he said.

May 1, 1997

Digital Tradition
Dick Greenhaus describes the demise of and prospects for The Digital Tradition
Xerox PARC External Page

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company


11 Oct 17 - 09:44 PM (#3881674)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Dick Greenhouse and the Digital Trad
From: GUEST,.gargoyle

Sincerely Sorry,

That should be Greenhaus.


Got it. And thanks for posting this! --mudelf

12 Oct 17 - 07:20 AM (#3881755)
Subject: RE: Dick Greenhaus and the Digital Trad
From: Susan of DT

Thank you Gargoyle.
Moving the Digital Tradition to mudcat was the best thing to happen to both the DT and mudcat.

12 Oct 17 - 03:47 PM (#3881861)
Subject: RE: Dick Greenhaus and the Digital Trad
From: GUEST,Martin Ryan

Indeed. I remember sending some songs to Dick back in those dsys - only for the row to explode. Thankfully, Max rode to the rescue and the rest is history!


13 Oct 17 - 03:13 AM (#3881922)
Subject: RE: Dick Greenhaus and the Digital Trad
From: Joe Offer

"Not for glory"? Hell, many of us have been singing the glories of Dick Greenhaus for a quarter-century!

It was Noel Paul Stookey who led me to the Digital Tradition in about 1992. His "Celebration Station" bulletin board in Maine had the DT disks available for download. My life hasn't been the same since then.

Thanks, Dick and Susan.


13 Oct 17 - 06:42 AM (#3881975)
Subject: RE: Dick Greenhaus and the Digital Trad
From: GUEST,Gerry

End of July, beginning of August 1996 there was a long discussion of the issues on the Usenet newsgroup,, which discussion you can still find on the web. The subject header was The Digital Tradition, that should help you find it. I recognized a few of the contributors as people who are known here at Mudcat, viz., Abby Sale, Jack Campin, Dick Greenhaus, and me, and I may have missed some others.