Where are the Guitar Tabs?

Important update: Easy Songs for Beginners are back! Read the official announcement. (updated November 3, 2011)

Last month I told you about a legal notice we received from the Music Publishers Association demanding that we remove any copyrighted guitar tab and lyrics from Guitar Noise. Since that time we’ve received quite a few messages of support and questions from readers. It’s been a busy month, and while I have a short breather I’d like to share a bit of what has been going on. Some of you have asked if there is anything you can do to help and I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me bring you up to speed.

You may have noticed already that guitar tabs and lyrics have been removed from most of the song lessons. This sometimes makes for confused reading and I’m sorry about that. We’re going to try and fix that. The lessons are still there for you to read, but for now you’ll have to work out the notes and lyrics on your own using the audio files and information in the text. In the cases where published transcriptions can be bought they will certainly make useful accompaniments. If you’re looking to buy guitar tabs from the publishers you should check out our FAQ on Where can I find guitar tab for any song?. There are still several lessons featuring public domain songs, such as our Christmas songs and Celtic arrangements that have been left untouched. And you can always email your questions about any lessons to David who is always happy to get information to people who ask for it.

On the legal side of things, I have been in contact with a copyright lawyer familiar with the issues at stake. His counsel has been very helpful because it has furthered my understanding of copyrights. Unfortunately, the result is not so positive. His advice confirms what I’ve already learned from other website owners who have faced similar takedown letters. Simply put, the MPA can make it prohibitively expensive for us to argue that we’re not copyright infringers. We may have a good argument for fair use and non-infringement, but from a business point of view, it isn’t worth the cost of trying to reach that conclusion.

It’s clear from emails I’ve received that many of you have spent more money on published works of music because of this site. The publishers, however, do not see it that way. Their position is that they are also engaged in creating, publishing and distributing teaching materials using their songs. It’s virtually impossible for them to compete with free and pirated works. To protect their business, lawyers for the MPA are demanding our ISP takes Guitar Noise offline unless we remove the “unauthorized” material or obtain a license to use the material lawfully.

Permanently removing the lyrics and tabs or negotiating a license with the publishers may be our best choices for a way forward. While we do this, though, understand that we are working at a way of bringing them back within the legal copyright system. This process may take some time, though.

Many of you have written to ask what you can do to help. First of all, there is no petition to sign. It’s also not necessary to begin an online petition against the MPA or NMPA. If you want to voice your opinion you can join us on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of people have been sharing ideas there. You can also comment on this post, join the discussion in the forums or send us an email.

Another thing you can do to help is continue to make people aware that this is happening. We also hope you’ll try and see both sides of the coin. Guitar Noise has always been a place where our users are pretty good about respecting the views of others. Hopefully the discussions on this topic will remain civil.

Finally, whatever your feelings about these issues, take part in the discussion. What is particularly helpful is to explain why and how the Guitar Noise lessons, in their format, has been helpful to you. From its inception, this website has always been about teaching guitar and music and hearing how it has helped you learn can help us make this place even better.

The good news is that, aside from the tabs and lyrics which we’ve removed, Guitar Noise isn’t going away. We’re talking about less than a hundred “unauthorized” guitar tabs. Anyone who’s spent any length of time on the internet knows that isn’t even a drop in the bucket.

We intend to be an even stronger community as all this works itself out.

See you around.