Here we go again
Now the Music Industry Wants Guitarists to Stop Sharing
By BOB TEDESCHI
Published: August 21, 2006
The Internet put the music industry and many of its listeners at odds thanks to the popularity of services like Napster and Grokster. Now the industry is squaring off against a surprising new opponent: musicians.
Lauren Keiser, president of the Music Publishers’ Association, says guitar tablature Web sites reduce the earnings of songwriters.
In the last few months, trade groups representing music publishers have used the threat of copyright lawsuits to shut down guitar tablature sites, where users exchange tips on how to play songs like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Highway to Hell” and thousands of others.
The battle shares many similarities with the war between Napster and the music recording industry, but this time it involves free sites like Olga.net, GuitarTabs.com and MyGuitarTabs.com and even discussion boards on the Google Groups service like alt.guitar.tab and rec.music.makers.guitar.tablature, where amateur musicians trade “tabs” — music notation especially for guitar — for songs they have figured out or have copied from music books.
On the other side are music publishers like Sony/ATV, which holds the rights to the songs of John Mayer, and EMI, which publishes Christina Aguilera’s music.
“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.
So far, the Music Publishers’ Association and the National Music Publishers’ Association have shut down several Web sites, or have pressured them to remove all of their tabs, but users have quickly migrated to other sites. According to comScore Media Metrix, an Internet statistics service, Ultimate-Guitar.com had 1.4 million visitors in July, twice the number from a year earlier.
The publishers, who share royalties with composers each time customers buy sheet music or books of guitar tablature, maintain that tablature postings, even inaccurate ones, are protected by copyright laws because the postings represent “derivative works” related to the original compositions, to use the industry jargon.
The publishers told the sites that if they did not remove the tablatures, they could face legal action or their Internet service providers would be pressured to shut down their sites. All of the sites have taken down their tabs voluntarily, but grudgingly.
The tablature sites argue that they are merely conduits for an online discussion about guitar techniques, and that their services help the industry.
“The publishers can’t dispute the fact that the popularity of playing guitar has exploded because of sites like mine,” said Robert Balch, the publisher of Guitar Tab Universe (guitartabs.cc), in Los Angeles. “And any person that buys a guitar book during their lifetime, that money goes to the publishers.”
Mr. Balch, who took down guitar tabs from his site in late July at the behest of the music publishers, added that, “I’d think the music publishers would be happy to have sites that get people interested in becoming one of their customers.”
Cathal Woods, who manages Olga.net, one of the pioneer free tablature sites, said he had run the site for 14 years with the help of a systems administrator, “and we’ve never taken a penny.” Mr. Woods, who teaches philosophy at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, said Olga.net had earned an undisclosed amount of money by posting ads on Google’s behalf, but he said that money had paid for bandwidth and a legal defense fund.
posted by Steve @ 1:32:00 AM