August 22, 2006

Guitar Tabulature and Intellectual Property Law

NYT has a piece today on moves by industry groups such as the Music Publisher's Association to shut down websites where guitarists share guitar tabulature—the low-tech graphic representations of how to play chords or notes for specific songs for people who don't read music. Sites like, one of the earliest and largest sites (which currently offers no guitar tab, but does have the text of the take-down letter they received from the NMPA and MPA's lawyers). Industry groups complain that their income is being affected by the free guitar tab sites in the same way that music filesharing has allegedly damaged the recorded music industry:

“People can get it for free on the Internet, and it’s hurting the songwriters,” said Lauren Keiser, who is president of the Music Publishers’ Association and chief executive of Carl Fischer, a music publisher in New York.

If you've used tab sites much, though, you probably know there's one major factor not being discussed here: the extraordinary majority of free guitar tab on the Web is so godawfully bad that it bears only a passing relationship to the notes and chords of the song it's covering. Songs are frequently in the wrong key; complex chords are commonly reduced to their simplest open, major versions; frequently only including a list of three chords with the suggestion, "that's more or less it; listen to the record for the strum pattern." Which is exactly why it's free and a great resource—like training wheels for budding musicians. But once you get very far into it, you'll find you spend as much time figuring out why the tab is wrong and how to fix it as you would just coming up with the tab on your own. Or, for more complex things, actually purchasing the sheet music from the publisher.

The real value of tab sites is that they're not really like filesharing sites; they're more like fan discussion communities. It's akin to shutting down, say, a baking discussion group that included recipes from people trying to replicate a batch of fried chicken that tastes just like Popeyes, or a film discussion group that's deconstructing various homages paid to other directors in Tarantino's Kill Bill.

Posted by johndanseven at August 22, 2006 04:30 PM | TrackBack

its perfect

Posted by: scott at August 26, 2006 09:14 PM
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