Thursday, July 20, 2006

Guitar Tabs Are Now Illegal?

So I went to one of my favorite guitar tablature repositories [] tonight hoping to continue practicing a song that I've been working on, and discovered that the Fair Use nature of the site is currently in dispute. Now, as a background, the majority of these tabs have been created by people who "reverse engineer" songs and then transcribed their results for public consumption. Some tabs have even been on Usenet since the early 1990's (you can use Google Groups to prove that).

The search by Song Title and/or Author still works, but individual tabs have been removed from the site (replaced with a 'Download of this file has been disabled' image).

The note on the homepage reads:

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

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.


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.