Where have all the tab sites gone?
Anyone with a battered six-string and a PC can now satiate their need for material to play simply by viewing tablatures, songs "tabbed" in an easy-to-read format for playback on a guitar, on many popular websites.
But recently many of the web's more popular tab sites are beginning to disappear - much to the dismay of budding guitarists everywhere. MXTabs, Guitartabs.cc, Guitartabs.com, Taborama.com and MySongBook are just a few of the sites that have been forced to close down recently - but why?
The answer lies in a small organisation known as the Music Publishers Association (which acronymises nicely to MPA) which has been issuing MPAA-like letters warning webmasters that their websites are infringing copyright. But how? Popular tab site Guitartabs.cc had this to say:
"At what point does describing how one plays a song on guitar become an issue of copyright infringment? This website [and tablatures], among other things, helps users teach eachother 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..."
But isn't this the case all too often? The copyright holders feel the need to dig deeper into their pockets, thinking only of their finances and not of the greater good of the people?
There is one tablature supersite that's doing things a little differently however, called Ultimate-Guitar.com.
A rather well-established portal with a twist, Ultimate-Guitar hosts all of its content in Russia - which means overseas-based legislation does not apply. Add to this the fact that Ultimate-Guitar.com has ensured that it pays royalties quarterly via the, deep breath please, Russian Organization on Collective Management of Rights of Authors and Other Rightholders in Multimedia, Digital Networks & Visual Arts (ROMS).
ROMS is the Russian organization taking care of the author's property rights in this case. But does the MPA care? Not an awful lot, no.
The other problem that remains that there is no alternative to these sites for the guitar-obsessed visitors that use them. There is no pay-per-tab system or subscription service setup to redirect the traffic from the sites that once delivered the content.
So the MPA is attempting to shut down as many free tablature sites as possible, regardless of whether they're subject to the same law, without providing an alternative.
If the MPA and major corporations involved could settle upon a licence websites must purchase before hosting tabs, then the problem would be alleviated - but until then, fellow-thrashers, there exists a tin-pot system of "shut them down they're teaching others how to play guitar".