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Topic: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

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  1. #1
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    Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    The Chicago Tribune reports:

    Rob Balch sees himself as a music educator of sorts, and the thousands of guitarists who have flocked to his Web site would no doubt agree. At Balch's Guitar Tab Universe, he posted the chords and finger positions for rock songs--all the information needed to crank out a version of anything from the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" to the latest U2 single.

    Music publishers, though, see Balch very differently: He's helping people steal the copyrighted sheet music they sell. So over the past several months, they effectively shut down Guitar Tab Universe and several other sites like it.

    The tussle over the online guitar tab, which is short for tablature, is another manifestation of the great clash between the freewheeling Internet and the cold reality of business law. It pits an industry struggling to combat what it sees as piracy against the Web ethos of swapping information for free. A similar battle played out in the much bigger recorded music business, with the industry scoring significant victories. But just as the record industry still struggles to contain illegal song swapping, guitarists can still easily find free tabs online.

    "I think we've made a noble effort, but it's somewhat of a drop in the bucket," said Larry Morton, president of Milwaukee-based Hal Leonard Corp., regarded by many as the world's largest printed music publisher.

    Sheet music is a $1 billion a year business globally, Morton said. It's not clear how much revenue the industry is losing because of free tab sites. "But [tablature] is a significant part of the print music business," he said. "We produce hundreds and hundreds of guitar books with tabs." Until the Web came along, the sheet music industry's biggest enemy was the photocopier, Morton said. Free tab sites, which allow musicians to post and share song structures, "are the photocopier on steroids." So earlier this year, the Music Publishers' Association and the National Music Publishers' Association, which respectively represent print music and recorded music publishers, went on the offensive. They sent letters to nearly 20 tab sites, ones believed to be the largest, threatening legal action. Balch's site was one of them, and he acquiesced.

    ...Belfor and other guitarists said the idea that tab sites are illegal seems absurd. "If I write out tabs for a song I've heard by ear and then share with other people, it doesn't seem like I am infringing on intellectual property."

    Lawyers say there may be an argument to be made for a sheet music exemption for educational purposes, though usually that applies to song excerpts only. Music publishers, though, are adamant: Tablature incorporates elements of an original work, and the law protects such "derivative" uses of copyrighted material.
    What's next? I hope they leave harp pedaling charts alone.

  2. #2

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    Gary thanks for posting.

    Now my thoughts:

    I've not been to the site that's been shut down, but I think it's a disgrace!

    Let's think of it in another way:

    I play the piano, and since I'm dealing with music for the past 24 years now, I've developed quite an ear (and the ability to play almost anything in the piano).

    How difficult is it for me to grasp the chords of 95% of the songs? Especially songs that CAN sound right in the piano. And some of them in the guitar, since I can play chords in the guitar (<-but I generally suck, which is qutie enough for the company I hang out with).

    I've never ever bought any tab, or rock/pop tab book (excpet 1 for the greatest hits of Queen...).

    If I decide and share my thoughts on how a track is played, am I breaking any laws? Becasue I can honestly come up with 300-400 songs, just like that... (played also in a piano bar (and lousy greek restaurant as well in the past) for a couple of years).

    So? What is going on. There IS no copyright breach whatsoever, is there? What about me humming a song that's too catchy? Is that wrong? Maybe I could shape it in the piano for my own pleasure since I'm a pianist. Is that wrong? Maybe I can gether some friends along... Is that wrong? Unless they would like to shut down every person who plays music for a living in any bar in any part for the world, and shut down all covers.

    Music industry sometimes sucks big time I think!

  3. #3

    Thumbs down Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    Chord progression can't be copyrighted!!!!!

    So those publishing houses have no case because chord tabs are just progressions which can't be copyrighted.

    Btw. it's maybe worth pointing out that some of the pop/rock songs are rip-off from the classical literature so it's questionable if it's possible to copyright rip-offs.

    Also, most pop/rock songs fall into 3-4 chords catagory so if chord progression could be copyrighted then those publishing houses would not get any new music because all variants of 3-4 chords have been done before. So talking about shooting themselves in the foot.
    Sincerely,
    Falcon1


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  4. #4

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    A thief is a thief is a thief.

    Whatever happened to good old-fashioned morality. If you illegally copy someone else's property then you are a thief, pure and simple and no amount of "justifications" will make it otherwise.

    I suppose that I am biased because I see my original compositions all over the internet that thieves have stolen. They even remove my name and brazenly put their names on them.

    A thief is a thief is a thief.

    (A crotchety old codger is a crotchety old codger is a crotchety old codger).

    LGA
    Larry G. Alexander
    www.alexandermusic.com

  5. #5

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    Just a few thoughts.

    The music publishers all create their tab books in Finale or Sibelius. So they are in a sense Garritan customers as well.

    I don't doubt that tab sites on the Net do negatively affect sheet music sales.

    I must admit that I have used tab sites a few times to learn complex chord progressions in songs by Steely Dan, for instance. Yet I would never obtain pirated recordings.

    I think in most cases the tabs you get on tab sites were independently created by somebody who was transcribing by ear--not directly copied from a published, copyrighted edition. They are often of dreadful quality and full of inaccuracies and are, in my opinion, often times no threat or detriment to the publishers.

    If you want something that's completely accurate and authentic, you'll be purchasing a copy of "Victor Wooten's Bass Solos Transcribed by Victor Wooten" for instance.
    Wheat Williams
    Atlanta, Georgia, USA
    Music Copyist in Sibelius
    Apple MacBook Pro, Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion
    Apple Certified Support Professional. I also work with Windows.

  6. #6

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    Quote Originally Posted by Wheat Williams
    I must admit that I have used tab sites a few times to learn complex chord progressions in songs by Steely Dan, for instance. Yet I would never obtain pirated recordings.

    I think in most cases the tabs you get on tab sites were independently created by somebody who was transcribing by ear--not directly copied from a published, copyrighted edition. They are often of dreadful quality and full of inaccuracies and are, in my opinion, often times no threat or detriment to the publishers.

    If you want something that's completely accurate and authentic, you'll be purchasing a copy of "Victor Wooten's Bass Solos Transcribed by Victor Wooten" for instance.
    A voice of reason!

    I've looked at tab sites from time to time, and every once in a while I'll grab the lyrics to spare myself the typing... so I guess that makes me a thief.

    However, except for the simplest of songs I've rarely come across accurate transcriptions unless they were done by the original artist or a real pro (and real professionals seldom give away other folks intellectual property, much less their own!)

    I teach guitar, and a number of my students are of the teen-ager persuasion. Needless to say they bring in tabs they've downloaded and ask me why they don't sound right. And I have to break the news that the tab is wrong!

    Now this brings up a very interesting legal question... am I breaking the law if I:
    1) transcribe a piece for my own ear training?
    2) transcribe a piece for my own enjoyment?
    3) transcribe a piece to play out at casual gigs?
    4) transcribe a piece for a student?
    5) transcribe a piece so that I or some other musician can perform the piece for renumeration or distribute the transcription, with or without compensation, without having to pay the rights?

    I think we'd all agree that #5 is in clear violation of all intellectual property laws and ethics in general. But what about the other cases?

    #4 is especially troubling because in cases where my students have purchased sheet music legally there is no better than even odds that the music is correct. And that's bad!

    The first two fall, I believe, under fair use, and I suspect that #4 can also be considered fair use if certain restrictions are met.

    #3 is just the way things are, and while I will agree that it is technically illegal, cover bands have been learning songs off the radio or CDs for as long as I've been aware, and the odds of the practice going away are so remote as to be laughable. This is one instance where the law really does need to catch up with reality.

    I'm not sure how, but part of the problem is solved by the performing arts societies who charge the clubs. The rest is beyond me.

    And, so to is the solution to the various tab sites. If I knew the solution I'd be a very wealthy man<G>! In the mean time, I think that any site that charges for illegally obtained tabs should be punished, but the folks that are simply sharing their knowledge raise a much more complex question.

    When I was younger it was quite common for us to teach each other songs... it was almost a competition, who could come up with the best version of "Mood for a Day" or "Little Martha"?

    Anyway, for all the reasons mentioned above I think that closing down OLGA and TAB Universe is pointless, and I do wish the music industry would pick their battles wisely.
    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise
    KB3KJF

  7. #7

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    Quote Originally Posted by nikolas

    So? What is going on. There IS no copyright breach whatsoever, is there? What about me humming a song that's too catchy? Is that wrong? Maybe I could shape it in the piano for my own pleasure since I'm a pianist. Is that wrong? Maybe I can gether some friends along... Is that wrong? Unless they would like to shut down every person who plays music for a living in any bar in any part for the world, and shut down all covers.
    Most music venues (bars that host live music, schools, concert venues, etc.) pay a fee for performance rights so that anyone using that venue can play cover songs. So its generally not illegal to do so. Most performers aren't aware of these fees since they don't have to pay them.

  8. #8

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    However, except for the simplest of songs I've rarely come across accurate transcriptions unless they were done by the original artist or a real pro (and real professionals seldom give away other folks intellectual property, much less their own!)
    I take it you haven't looked at any of the powertab sites. There are some amazing transcriptions out there. All for educational purposes only, of course.

  9. #9

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    Quote Originally Posted by dbudde
    I take it you haven't looked at any of the powertab sites. There are some amazing transcriptions out there. All for educational purposes only, of course.
    I guessed I missed that one... there is one site that I sometimes check out, it is associated with the TablEdit program, but the tabs there are extremely advanced for the most part, and at least for the ones I checked, the material is in the public domain or the original artist has provided it, with rights.

    I would not be surprised to find accurate tabs somewhere, there are enough folks that can do a good transcription, and at least some of them must also be willing to share their work.

    I've thought about posting some of my transcriptions, but all the legal aspects are daunting, and as Larry points out, I'd be more than a little miffed if someone took credit for one of my compositions or arrangements<G>!
    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise
    KB3KJF

  10. #10

    Re: Legal Dept: Music industry frets over Guitar Tablature

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry G. Alexander
    A thief is a thief is a thief.
    So indeed you believe that I personally am a thief because I played a song by ABBA (for example) in the piano 10 minutes ago? Well done for that then!

    In Greece, no one ever pays royalties and stuff like that in live venues. Not unless it's the top 20 night clubs or so. Believe it or not Radio stations don't pay royalties... So sorry but I've never ever payed anything for playing the Beatles, or whatever else...

    There is a big difference between composition and arrangment or tab...

    I wouldn't mind someone taking my tabs (which I've never done but anyways...) and claim it's theirs. I would certainly mind taking one of my compositions.

    I can surely understand the loss of revenues for the publishing companies (which either way are rather rich becasue of the copyright laws and so on... back in 1990, had anyone checked how much was a Ravel Score? Huge ammounts of money... but anyways let's not get off track here...

    But honestly why is it wrong to say to someone "Here: Let it be: C, G, Am, F, C, G, F etc...). There you go! Arrest me now! You think it's completly right? Nope it's not! you think I mind? Nope! You think I found that info anywhere? Nope again! so... what's the big deal?

    I have a right to listen to the radio!
    I have a right to listen all day to the same song, since I've bought the CD
    I have a right to watch the video through youtube...
    I have a right to hum it! (don't I?)
    Do I have a right to play it in the piano, or it's illegal? (Honestly is it illegal?)
    Do I have a right to show it to my best friend, because he's my best friend? Or even better, is it right someone watching me play for purely entertainment reasons, learns the song?

    Come on!

    The trouble lies that most songs are easy to make out. at least for the very basics. (Either way when you're playing solo, you can't reproduce the sound of any group realisticly...). It's not a difficult score by Boulez, which is impossible to make out by ear. It's silly (or not silly, but certainly not so complicated as Stravisnky) songs!

    Anyone coming my way to claim that I found the chords from a site, I'll tell them the truth: I'm an amazing musician, and thus learned the songs from the radio! and never ever performed them (an obvious lie of course...)!

    Oh btw, my piano student asked me to play to him the LOTR theme, in the piano. It sounds awful, but he loves it! He's 12, and he persuaded his mother and went ot buy the soundtrack. True story! Come now and speak to me about old fashioned morality.

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