Music companies pull the strings on tab-sharing sites

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    Aspiring guitarists are finding it harder to learn their favorite songs these days as a new threat of lawsuits from the music industry has started the decline in online guitar tablature sites.One of the largest guitar tablature sites on the net, Olga.net – Online Guitar Archive – has been the main target in recent copyright infringement lawsuit threats from the National Music Publishers Association and the Music Publishers Association of the United States.

    What exactly is a guitar tab? It is a form of musical notation that shows guitarists where to place their fingers on the fret board to form certain notes and chords, much like sheet music does for pianists.

    Guitar tabs have six horizontal lines that represent each string on a guitar. On the corresponding lines, there are numbers that represent the fret that the finger is to be placed on that particular string.

    Cathal Woods, who is the brains behind Olga.net, took down the site’s entire collection of tabs, which numbered more than 34,000, in response to the “take down” letters sent to him from the NMPA and the MPA.

    Woods told the British Broadcasting Company that he feels the lawsuit threats against him are not justified.

    “Obviously the National Music Publishers’ Association and the Music Publishers’ Association think the law is on their side and that these are copyright infringements,” Woods said.

    Woods said that he will not sit aside quietly. He plans to band together with other tab sites and fight back.

    Last year, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., NMPA president David Israelite, said unauthorized use of tablature “deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living and is no different than stealing.”

    “They’re forcing everyone off the Net,” Woods said. “But, as far as I know, they don’t have (an iTunes-style equivalent) that would fill the need for guitar tab online.”

    Woods said he also feels that the music industry is ignoring the existence of the Internet and should, instead, embrace it.

    “My other objection is that, for the music publishing companies, it’s as if the Internet never happened,” Woods said. “The Internet changes everything, and we need to think about what’s permissible in the context of it.”

    Tabs started out as a published work by record companies that were sold in music stores for aspiring guitarists to buy. But, since the conception of the Internet, millions and millions of tabs have been custom-made by individuals and placed online.

    Most sites get around certain legal issues by claiming that the tabs on a particular site are not copied from official sources and that certain homemade tabs by fans are their individual interpretation of the song.

    Woods also said Olga.net is not a profit-making site, and the tabs on the site are very basic text-only files, while MP3 sites are different because they allow people to download a file that is almost identical to the original work.

    “The lawyers say we’re making money out of these sites, but I’ve never been paid for it,” Woods said. “It’s a hobby. I’ve got a full-time job.”

    As far as the local music community in Fort Worth is concerned, many artists have used Olga.net.

    Tim Locke, a member of local rock groups Calhoun and Flickerstick, said he feels these lawsuit threats are pointless.

    “This is funny to me,” Locke said. “They are trying to rattle cages and scare people. Trying to stop people from putting up chords and lyrics on the Internet is like trying to hold back the ocean with a broom.”

    Locke said in the future, all of the fuss over free music-distribution online will be obsolete and forgotten about.

    “This tab issue is almost the same as the illegal MP3 downloading issue,” Locke said. “Soon songs will just all be free, and the only way to make money will be by performing, which is fine for people that can actually play and sing.”

    Other local musicians share Locke’s view.

    Chance Morgan, singer/songwriter/guitarist for local rock outfit The Burning Hotels, said all musicians are a product of their influences, and people will always find a way to share music.

    “Artists and musicians receive ideas and instruction from their influences,” Morgan said. “This passage of information will never change, even if they shut down Web sites, people will find a way to get what they want.”

    Jeff Price, another local singer/songwriter said he feels the shut down of tab sites is a shame for young guitarists learning the ropes.

    “Tab sites have been a huge resource to me,” Price said. “I think it would be a shame if that wasn’t available to young players just trying to play the songs they love. What is that hurting?”

    Price said he feels the tab sites help the music industry because through learning a song, it makes kids want to go out and buy the music.

    “Learning tabs would only make kids want to buy more records,” Price said. “And think of all the people they’ll play for. I think it is a serious mistake by the music industry for threatening to take down these sites.