A Chicago Tribune report looks at music publishers’ efforts against online distributors of tablature, the stripped-down sketches of guitar parts that have been filling online newsgroups since the earliest days of USENET. At issue is the old profit-vs.-education impulse, according to users of the tabs, who are also quick to point out the fact that they’re not always direct rips of the music in question:
Balch, 25, started Guitar Tab Universe in 1999 while he was in college and learning to play guitar. Before the crackdown, it averaged 360,000 unique visitors per month, according to ComScore Networks, a Web tracking firm. A tech consultant in Los Angeles, Balch ran the site as a hobby, generating enough ad revenue to cover costs.
In his view, swapping recorded music is a “black and white” issue; it’s illegal. But sharing tabs “is completely different,” he said. “It’s educational. People don’t even come up with the same tabs for the same song.”
Indeed, a lot of tabs posted on Web sites contain errors, guitar players say, though even glitches are helpful, said Chad Belfor, a 33-year-old Chicago guitarist. “They can point you in the right direction.”
Music publishers, who are sitting on a $1 billion/year business, don’t share as sanguine a view; the president of music-publishing giant even went so far to call the online tab world “the photocopier on steroids.” So far, their efforts have been successful; OLGA, an old-school source of tablature, has been shut down since this summer, and other U.S.-based sites are closing up shop as well because the legal fees to keep them open require money that they don’t have. Which is why we’re sort of uneasy about this crackdown: If people are making money off of crappy covers, they should pay up for publishing-fee costs. But going after hobbyists’ sites–which the sites’ users admit are error-ridden–seems more than a little greedy to us.
Music industry frets over popular guitar Web sites [Chicago Tribune]