OLGA (On-line Guitar Archive) a venerable library of guitar and bass tablature has been shut down. It has been around for years, used by a generation of learner guitar players. OLGA has been taken down by legal action twice before, in 1996 and 1998, but recovered. This time it looks serious, the site has been down for a few months already.
The site administrator Cathal Woods pulled the plug after getting a "take down" letter from lawyers representing two US music industry groups: the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and the Music Publishers Association of the United States (MPA). These groups
According to the president of the NMPA, David Israelite, using tablature sites "deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living, and is no different than stealing.”
In terms of the law the music industry groups are probably right, however there are important implications.
- Sales of tablature books will most likely increase, since guitarists will still want to learn.
- Importantly, however, the variety of tablature available to guitarists will decrease. This is because the music industry publishes only a small minority of music in tablature format. The online archives filled this gap: guitarists shared their own transcriptions of songs with rare or unpublished tabs.
- New or obscure bands without officially published tabs could lose popularity to those dinosaurs of rock with plenty of tab books on the shelves.
Another online tab site, ultimate-guitar.com , is safe from prosecution for the foreseeable futute. It seems to have benefited from the closure of OLGA. You can see from the picture of traffic on the various sites that ultimate-guitar.com has taken off in the last year. Being based in Russia affords the site some protection through Russian copyright laws, thought not to apply to online distribution of creative works. Amendments in September 2006, however, and have already caused headaches for Russian sites distributing cheap MP3s to European and US customers. Since ultimate-guitar.com does not sell the tabs it should be safe for the forseeable future.