Back in December 2005, the BBC News reported, “Song sites face legal crackdown“:

The US Music Publishers’ Association (MPA), which represents sheet music companies, will launch its first campaign against such sites in 2006.

MPA president Lauren Keiser said he wanted site owners to be jailed.

He said unlicensed guitar tabs and song scores were widely available on the internet but were “completely illegal”.

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can “throw in some jail time I think we’ll be a little more effective”.

Much more in the article.

True to their word, the MPA has apparently started threatening large Guitar Tab sites as Guitar Tab Universe through their ISPs where Rob Balch has posted the following on his site:

July 17, 2006

To all “Guitar Tab Universe” visitors:

The company which owns this website has been indirectly threatened (via our ISP) with legal action by the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) as well as the Music Publishers’ Association (MPA) on the basis that sharing tablature constitutes copyright infringement. At what point does describing how one plays a song on guitar become an issue of copyright infringment? This website, among other things, helps users teach eachother how they play guitar parts for many different songs. This is the way music teachers have behaved since the first music was ever created. The difference here is that the information is shared by way of a new technology: the Internet.

When you are jamming with a friend and you show him/her the chords for a song you heard on the radio, is that copyright infringement? What about if you helped him/her remember the chord progression or riff by writing it down on, say, a napkin… infringement? If he/she calls you later that night on the phone or e-mails you and you respond via one of those methods, are you infringing? I don’t know… but I would really like to know. If anyone has information on this, please email support@guitartabs.cc.

Apparently, the NMPA/MPA believes that the Internet may be on the foul side of the legality line they would like to draw here. For me, I see no difference. It’s teachers educating students and covered as a ‘fair use’ of the tablature. The teachers here don’t even get paid nor do the students have to pay this website to access the lessons.

An attack on this website is really an attack on every one of you who have told someone (in person, or via the written word, telephone, or e-mail) how you play a song on guitar. And who, especially among small websites, has the deep pockets to fight the NMPA/MPA? They use scare tactics while there is, in fact, no legal precedent on this matter (to the best of our knowledge). If you are interested in expressing your opinion to the NMPA/MPA, contact them via their respective websites. Please do not resort to vulgar language or insults.

Millions of people use the Internet to learn guitar, in one form or another. It appears the NMPA/MPA and their members do not want to support us and help us further our education. To you visitors from outside the USA or UK, can you find your favorite artists’ “official sheet music” at your local music store? Even in the United States and United Kingdom, we often can not. The NMPA/MPA have a choice to make: either they support us as aspiring guitarists, or they choose to alienate their customer base. To date, not one sheet music publisher has contacted this website to either inquire as to our activities or to express interest in any type of dialogue or collaboration whatsoever. All we deserve is a cold, indirect, impersonal threat without any explanation? They should embrace new technologies or else become relics of the old economy.

Since I’m now ‘worried’ about working around tabs at all, I’m in a tough situation! Luckily, I’m fairly confident that if I alone listen to a song and then figure out how to play it by ear, I will then be able to enjoy using that knowledge to practice and improve my guitar playing skills. Is that what is necessary for everyone to do? Work these things out alone? What a sad situation.

Sincerely,
Rob Balch

Manager of “Guitar Tab Universe”

If you would like to help out and join the effort to fight for our freedom to tab and share, please check out MuSATO.

You can comment on this statement and/or situation here

From the Music Student and Teacher Organization, “Fighting for the freedom to fairly use tablature in online education:”

MuSATO (Music Student and Teacher Organization) has been formed for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of music students to learn to play the guitar through the use of online guitar tabs available on a number of websites around the world. The exchange of information in this way has been the backbone of the learning process between guitar teachers and students since the invention of the electric guitar. A student hears a record on the radio, wants to learn the guitar part, and plays the CD recording of the song for his or her teacher. The teacher subsequently shows the student how to play the part. Sometimes, to insure that the student remembers the lesson, the teacher also writes down the part on some paper, depending on the teacher – student relationship. PLEASE REGISTER AT BOTTOM OF PAGE TO HELP SAVE GUITAR TABS!

Online guitar tabs are simply a rudimentary way for guitar students to show each other how to play a guitar part for their favorite song. These tabs are created by the users and as such are not akin in any way to the illegal downloading of music recordings. They are not copied from published music from a book, from the web or other pre-existing sources. Moreover, in many cases the guitar tabs do not represent the song from which they came but rather the guitar part recorded during the making of a recording of the song. Guitars tabs do not contain rhythmic information of any kind and therefore are actually not accurate representations of the song.

More at the site and a form to help the fight through free registration and small donations.

This whole thing just gets worse and worse….

Thanks to Jason at his A View Inside My Head blog for the heads up on this when he tried to go to a guitar tab site to continue practicing a song he was was working on and found they were missing in action.

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