Bad guitarists of the world, unite!

Courtesy of Kent Newsome’s blog, I see that the recording industry — having obviously failed to find any more babies to poison or dogs to kick — is going after guitar tablature sites such as Olga, as chronicled in the New York Times (as Slashdot points out, this isn’t the first time Olga has come under fire; the Harry Fox agency, which owns the publishing rights to most top hits, went after the tab site in 1998).

Like many other professional and amateur guitarists, including Kent, I have used Olga.net for years to find transcribed music that I am trying to learn (in my case, so that I can play old John Prine songs out on my back porch or at a campfire, rather than having to play Leaving On a Jet Plane or whatever my friends really want me to play). In many cases the music that I would come across was wrong or incomplete, but invariably someone would correct it, or post a different file so people could try them both. Kind of like an early version of social networking.

The industry (which comes under some heavy fire from J. Botter here), is arguing that tabs are a “derivative work,” and therefore are an infringement of the original artist’s copyright. Sadly, at least one lawyer (and guitarist) thinks that they might be right, and that the principle of “fair use” might not be enough to allow Olga and other sites like it to survive. I hope that he is wrong.

I think Thomas Vander Wal is right when he says this it is just another example of the tension between sharing and owning. More discussion here. And in a crashing irony, Joe Gratz — a recent law-school graduate — says the original closure of Olga was one of the things that got him interested in studying copyright law.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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