Fretting over infringement
Scott Johnson, of West Mifflin, says a lot of the musicians who visit Pittsburgh Guitars on the South Side learn to play music not by reading music but by reading tablature.
Tablature is a notation system that uses letters or symbols, instead of notes, to show how to play a given piece of music. For guitar tablature, or tab, a diagram of the strings is shown, with finger positions corresponding with the appropriate frets on the guitar.
The Internet hosts thousands of tab Web sites, and after a basic Google search, guitarists can figure out how to play almost any song that can get stuck in their heads. While some sites require registration, most guitar tabs can be found online for free.
"I think a lot of younger players would be lost without those Web sites," said Johnson, a guitar repairman at the store.
A campaign launched this year by the Music Publishers' Association of the United States, which represents sheet music companies, threatens to shut down these free tab Web sites. The MPA compares offering free tabs of songs online to giving away stolen merchandise to attract customers.
Both Guitar Tab Universe (www.guitartabs.cc) and GuitarTabs.com, two of the bigger tab sites, report that they've received legal notices in recent months from the MPA and the National Music Publishers' Association, part of an ongoing copyright war to stop unlicensed song scores and lyrics from spreading digitally.
Rob Balch, Web site administrator for Guitar Tab Universe, posted a statement on his site that questions whether there's any copyright violation in the tabs he provides: "When you are jamming with a friend, and you show him/her the chords for a song you heard on the radio, is that copyright infringement• What about if you helped him/her remember the chord progression or riff by writing it down on, say, a napkin ... infringement?"
Some guitarists compare tablature to language translation. It's not like photocoping sheet music; it's one artist's transcription.
"It's not posted in a commercial way or to make money," said Frank Delfina, of New Jersey, who was browsing Pittsburgh Guitars last week. "It's the person who made the tab saying, 'This is the version of the tune as well as I know it.'"
Roger Cegelski, a guitar teacher in Moon Township, said tablature is the quickest way to teach a student how to play. His students learn a combination of tabs -- which he writes out himself -- and traditional music-reading.
"If the kid is going to be playing in the high school band, he needs to learn the notes, but he can learn the tabs faster," Cegelski said. And, he said, tablature is useless unless the student has heard the song first.
"What tab doesn't give you is the structure and the tone and the pacing," he said.
Cegelski doesn't recommend trying to learn from tab Web sites alone. "There are some good ones out there, but they are really not that reliable," he said.
Still, MPA president Lauren Keiser said online tabs, mistakes and all, do not qualify as the personal interpretation of the person who transcribes them.
"U.S. copyright law provides that the right to make and distribute an arrangement, adaptation, abridgment or transcription of a copyrighted work such as a song belongs to the copyright owner of that work," Keiser said in a statement.
Without the permission of the copyright owner, Keiser argues, the arranger and Web site of a tab version of a song are infringing on the copyright.
John Bechtold, who works at Pittsburgh Guitars on the South Side said he rarely uses tab Web sites because most of them are riddled with errors.
"I don't feel it's infringement, but most of those sites have a lot of mistakes," Bechtold said. "I think you can end up learning a song incorrectly if you use them too much."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fire victim’s ex-boyfriend jumps from Tarentum Bridge
- Steelers rookie says Sam, his former roommate, has changed
- Rossi: Buying trust is a must for Pirates
- Steelers aim to create more turnovers this year with speedier defense
- Two cars strike horse near Fayette fair
- LaBar: Big week for future of WWE & TNA
- Dixon, Pitt men’s basketball team aren’t planning island vacation
- Pitt’s new chancellor Gallagher to continue broad role at school
- Pirates’ attempts to bolster roster at deadline a fruitless endeavor
- Steelers notebook: Shoulder pads get technological boost for Ravens game
- QB Grady earns high marks for playoff-bound Power