08. 24. 2006
Music publishers are attacking fans (again)
I play bass and guitar (badly), and I'm entirely self taught. One way people teach themselves to play stringed instruments is through guitar tablature for popular songs. Guitar tabs are similar to sheet music, but instead of reading clefs and bars the notation is a pictoral walkthrough of a song using lines and numbers to represent the strings and chords. Basically, they show where to put your fingers. Timing and technique all has to be figured out alone, and it's one method of passing along musical history.
Tabs are made by amateur users who listen to songs and transcribe the notes into the proper notation. As such, a lot of guitar tabs are incomplete or incorrect, but it gets the job done for the most part. These user submitted tabs are available for free on many websites, but that may not be the case for long. Many have been served copyright infringement cease-and-desist letters sent by the MPA and NMPA music publishing companies. OLGA, the "OnLine Guitar Archive," is the internet's oldest tab site, and they have voluntarily removed their content while trying to formulate a legal strategy to respond.
The two companies are claiming that the existence of user submitted tab archive sites impair their ability to sell officially sanctioned tablature and sheet music. In an NPR interview Rob Balch of Guitar Tab Universe discussed attempting to arrange a licensing agreement to keep his site online, but was told that there would be no discussion.
A couple of big names have come out in support of the independent tablature sites. Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Moby, and Mike Happoldt (Sublime) have made statements criticizing the music publishers, and supporting the little guys. Moby was quoted on Kevin Maney's blog as saying that not only does he support tablature archives, but he often uses them to learn songs by other artists.