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Jail for tabs and lyrics?

Hugo H

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"The music industry is to extend its copyright war by taking legal action against websites offering unlicensed song scores and lyrics."



The Music Publishers' Association is going to push for criminal convictions of owners of websites that distribute guitar tabs and/or lyrics.


"Unauthorised use of lyrics and tablature deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living, and is no different than stealing"


Considering how very little money is made from sheet music, and how incomprehensible many singers are today, does this make sense? Should the exchange of information like this be criminal?


Does it make sense to hide chords from musicians struggling to learn a song?


And if this concept is logically extended, can one musician teach another how to play a song without risking jail?


Like most other songwriters, I hope to make some money from my songs. But isn't this going a bit overboard? I don't understand how the industry believes this is a good move. Can anyone enlighten me?

Kawai GS-40 grand & other keys
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Many musician mags, like the MP mags, pay a lot of money for permission (license) to print sheet music. Somewhere around here, someone asked why lyrics weren't included with the music. The reply was that it would cost an additional amount to be able to print the lyrics.


Is it fair that print media like magazines have to play by copyright rules but the internet does not?


When I started looking at copyright laws -- and I'm by no means completely up on them -- I always thought it odd that cover bands could even exist. Do cover bands even stop to think they might need permission to cover another band's copyrighted material? (No.) The loophole, as far as I can tell, is that the venue pays the performance royalties for the cover songs, not the cover band. So, do venues collect set lists, so they know which artists to compensate, or do they just pay a flat fee? (Royalties from radio airplay, as I understand it, are based on sampling, not actual play lists.) Who makes sure venues even pay royalties? Do you have to apply for a live music license, just like you would a liquor license? (I really have no clue about the business of running a bar.)


Examples are easier in other industries.


You've just written the latest Harry Potter best seller. Should someone post your novel unabridged to the internet?


You design artwork for greeting cards. Should someone be able to scan your artwork and post it to the internet, perhaps for making "print-it-yourself" greeting cards?


You're a comedian. Should someone post the text of your latest routine to the internet? How about a bootleg video of your last show?


It really doesn't matter that what the article is talking about is just pop songs, or that the lyrics are short (not like a novel). Some people include printed lyrics with the purchase of their CD; they don't generally give them away for free on their internet sites. Nobody includes tab or other transcriptions with their CDs or on their websites.


What's a poor cover musician supposed to do? Maybe original artists can make lyrics and tab/sheet music available as downloads -- maybe through a central distributor like iTunes -- for an affordable price. It's already a lot easier now that you can download individual songs for 99 cents instead of having to buy CDs for almost $20 each. If you have 36 songs for a 3-hour set list, that's $36 of iTunes or (if each song appears on a separate CD) $720 of CDs. If you can get "iTabs" and/or "iLyrics" for a buck each, you're still only out another $36 ($72 if separate). Most cover bands can probably get away with just the iTunes downloads.


So there's your big business lead of the day. Go out and start an "iTabs" company. (Chances are, the big boys already have it in the works.)

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Oh, the software equivalent would be something like this:


A bunch of programmers make available "transcriptions" of various Microsoft code. They're not actually posting the binaries (the executable code), but a transcription of the binaries (1's and 0's) into a programming language (code example nixed by MP bb software).


You download the transcription for Word, run it through your compiler, and voila!, you now have an executable version of Word to use.

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It's an important discussion, and the answers are not black and white.


Cover bands do not exploit a loophole, they work generally within the law. The venue pays the Performance Rights Societies (ASCAP, BMI, etc.) for a license to use copyrighted music (ideally...). The PRSs employ people to enforce this, and these enforcers are often looked upon as extortionists by venue owners. Starbucks has its own record label mostly because they can administer the royalty issue on a corporate level, saving millions of dollars and actually making some of it back, as an example.


As far as tabs, lyrics, sheet music, or MP3s traded or posted on the internet...it's not as black and white as it may seem, either. One extreme is like Hugo's "can one musician teach another how to play a song without risking jail?", and the other would be that all art should be free.


The middle ground is that there is some fair use to all of this, and some balance between generating revenue and encouraging creativity. This balance is what was desired by the founding fathers when they included provisions for copyright law in the constitution - an exclusive right for copyright holder to profit from his or her work for a limited time (IMO ths has become distorted over the centuries, for example giving Disney a virtually unlimited mechanism to profit from works their founder borrowed from the public domain).


The Performance Rights Society model works pretty well, but not perfectly, for broadcasters and live venues. A similar mechanism will ultimately be put in place to generate revenue for copyright holders from interenet file trading, making the issue of copyright infringement on the internet much more manageable.

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Originally posted by RicBassGuy:

Thanks for that thoughtful explanation, Doug! :thu:

Just MHO.


The only people who suffer here are those at the top of the music industry and internet provider food chains. How much could these individuals possibly suffer by paying a few pennies to some songwriters?

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  • 4 weeks later...
Originally posted by RicBassGuy:

Many musician mags, like the MP mags, pay a lot of money for permission (license) to print sheet music.


That's one reason you'll notice that lessons in GPlayer, etc., note that musical illustrations are increasingly cited as being "in the style of" rather than as actual quotes from songs.


You've just written the latest Harry Potter best seller. Should someone post your novel unabridged to the internet?

This is exactly what my fave-guys-to-hate-at-the-moment (google*) are gearing up to do!

What makes them different than all those pirates using overseas facilities to duplicate films, etc. ?



What's a poor cover musician supposed to do?

One solution: develop some musical skills & learning to hear.

Even if you don't do it the "old fashioned way", with todays technology there are CD players & computer programs that play recordings at variable speeds without changing pitch, so there are myriad ways to learn songs without tab/scores, etc., not that there's necessarily anything wrong with learning off paper as long as it's not a crutch or the only way one can play. Any of us can find endless example of people on these & other forums asking for the tab version of even the simplest songs; everyone's gotta start somewhere, just don't stay there!


We need to consider what any of us might think if we were "being robbed" by someone undercutting the potential sales of our efforts.


Lastly, a bit of humor

Is this the reason that so many tablature versions of songs are mistake ridden?

To avoid copyright infringment suits?! :D



[*How many realize that google is building a case file on every single search on their site, as well as who does it?

Alledgedly to "better serve" (reminds me of what The Big Bad Wolf might say) but get ready for the marketing nightmare of your lives.]

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