What you get if you try to learn to play a song from here

Based on this, I wonder if teaching a baby to talk is copyright infringement on some level. You’re teaching the child words used in copyrighted books. What about teaching someone a foreign language? Is that preventing someone who wrote a book on teaching that language from getting their royalty? I don’t know what one is supposed to do here to stay legal.

Guitar Tab Universe — Open Letter To Users

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 each other 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 support@guitartabs.cc.

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”

  1. Jokimoto says:

    If a web-site were to post, say, a scanned copy of a Hal Leonard tablature book in PDF form, that’s most certainly copyright infringment if it’s done w/out permission.
    If a web-site posts a homemade “guesstimate” (sometimes remarkably accurate, more often simply adequate as a jump-start) that is certainly not infringement.
    Most tabs I’ve seen are clumsy .txt files, most w/only the bare bones of the song figured out anyway.
    This is simply greed, as if ticket prices in the hundreds of dollars weren’t enough.

  2. Orlandus says:

    “If a web-site were to post, say, a scanned copy of a Hal Leonard tablature book in PDF form, that’s most certainly copyright infringment if it’s done w/out permission.”

    Correct. That infringes both the copyright in the musical work and the copyright in the tab arrangement.

    “If a web-site posts a homemade “guesstimate” (sometimes remarkably accurate, more often simply adequate as a jump-start) that is certainly not infringement.”

    Not correct. While it doesn’ t infringe the copyright in the Hal Leonard tab arrangement, it still very clearly infringes the copyright in the original musical work — possibly you could try to assert a “fair use” defense, but that is (at best) highly dubious for a derivative work that is (1) a complete, performable arrangement — even if a bad one! — of the entire musical work and (2) published and readily available to the public at large.

    FWIW, IANAL, etc.

  3. Jokimoto says:

    Would you honestly assert that this is a “complete, performable arrangement”?:



    There’s not even a time signature, for god’s sake! Type “stariway to heaven tab” in google and that’s the first link you’ll get. I defy anyone to arrange a “complete performance” of the song from what you see above.
    Should an art teacher be sued for instructing a student how to paint in the manner of Picasso?
    English Lit. teachers had best watch their backs, lest their students emulate Thoreau so thoroughly as to invite prosecution by the “proper authorities.”

  4. Jokimoto says:

    That last one’s mine….but u can use it, lol…..

  5. epic1 says:

    you can find zeppelin, floyd, ccr, metalica, simon and garfunkel, etc in a music shop. what about when i learn everything from the 15 or so bands on the sheet music shelf. what if i wanna learn some elliot smith, testament, meshugga, mastadon, larry coryell, or the pixies? i’ll quit complaining about copyright “violations” when the music publishers actually posess what we’re supposedly stealing from them. “oh really mr. publisher, i should buy from you? very well, i’ll take the 1993 baseline that flea played on saturday night live one night only when he played bass for janes addiction for the gig. you dont say? dont have that one?”

  6. Jokimoto says:

    No offense, epic1, but that’s a lousy argument, as likely any song on recording of any type is copyrighted. Just because someone hasn’t published an official transcript of it doesn’t change that fact, so if you download any of those official transcripts w/out paying you ARE stealing. I don’t do that. I download oodles of crappy home-brew’s.
    And if you’ve managed to learn “everything” from those bands on the shelf at your local store, you wouldn’t have a very hard time figuring out flea’s baseline on your own, especially one on video where you can watch his fingers.
    I see your point…to a point. Theft, though, is theft. However, 99% of internet guitar-tabs are not thieved from anyone, which is the main point.

  7. I am working on a songs database that people will be able to post ‘copyrighted’ songs, We stand on the ‘fair use’ act and will fight anything that comes up.

    Some of the transcription sites are clearly not for ‘educational’ uses, I may even prime the pump with some of the hot songs mentioned in some of the bigger lawsuits. Our site revolves around ‘learning’ how to play guitar which is a big floatie for us – that is if we ever have to use it…

    Michael Mettura
    Guitarweek Inc.

  8. johnzo says:

    i dont play cover songs, i exclusivley write and perform my own work, but i also believe that if someone loves a song i wrote enough to want to play, id just hand over the sheet music(copy protected of course!)and say “have at it” and be flattered. if the company’s representing all of these musicians are speaking for them, then its just a product , screw the talent, hard work,and passion put into a piece, they might as well be manufacturing dog food for all i care. They pull this crap off and i will never buy a major artists cd ever again.

    Much luck to you Rob, Let us know if we can do anything to help with research or anything, i do hope all of us can do something much more than be steamed about this.

  9. chris says:

    I have been a musician and music teacher for many years. I will never, never again buy any sheet music, CDs or anything from any major music company involved in this practices. Music is culture, culture is mankind, but this industries are just vultures picking profits they have not earned, profits they often do not give to the real artists. Not one manager of the music industry has produced anything worth conserving, they are just parasites. So I will keep to the classics, the indies and make my own stuff, and I am never going to buy or teach or make own of my students buy a single piece of music ownd by a major industry.

  10. Sound says:

    I think Gregory is correct in saying Copyright can’t be weakend, it can only expire. In my opinion Guitar Tabs have to be free for everyone without restrictions.

  11. liamroy says:

    In my humble opinion, I believe that if the person showing guitar tabs is not paid for it, it cant be infringing on copyright laws…:)

  12. crazyoldman says:

    I wonder when they’ll start coming after people showing other people how to play songs with video on the Internet. It’s only going to get more ridiculous.

  13. curiosity26 says:

    How do we protest this? I used to run a tab site, which still has OLGA connections, and I think MPA has gone too far. How can I get the musicians in my area to protest this?

  14. Upickreviews says:

    I think guitar tabs have to be free for everyone without any restriction.


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