I’m not part of that geeky strain of libertarian who thinks the record industry should say, “Sure, download and copy everything for free!” I work in a content-generating business, and I know it always ticks ME off when I see that someone has just copied my stuff in a way that brings no revenue to the folks who pay my salary. (Yes, it has happened.) So I tend not to get all bent out of shape about things like copy protection.
And I definitely don’t buy the argument that we shouldn’t have any sympathy for the record industry because all they produce is crap. You’re not exactly helping the argument that the industry should be kinder to Guster by copying a bunch of Guster songs so that no one — including Guster — profits from the 30 Guster songs you have on the iPod.
But every once in a while, the record industry does something so outlandishly stupid that it’s difficult to muster up that grain of sympathy for them.
In this case, they’re going after guitar tab-sharing. For those of you who aren’t guitar players, “tabs” are a style of notating music to show you fingerings and effects and so forth. Basically, people pick out songs by ear, type up the results and submit them to a mailing list or Web site. (Of course, they’re often wrong. Of the eight versions of Purple Haze at one site, only this one gets the first four notes right — you HAVE to hit those notes on the A string — and it introduces some unusual fingerings and vague instructions. Buyer beware, but it’s free, so …)
The record industry, for some reason, doesn’t like this. One popular site that also featured some really neat drum tabs saw a looming threat and shut down. Another saw that threat beyond the “looming” stage and complied, but the proprietor left us with one of the best-reasoned rebuttals you’ll ever read.
His best points:
1. Suppose a guitar teacher teaches you how to play the riff from Purple Haze. Is that copyright infringement?
2. If companies that produce those horrendously overpriced sheet music books are worried about losing money, why not move aggressively online yourselves? (Mxtabs points out that its site generated thousands of dollars in sheet music sales.)
3. If I figure out a song on my own, I’m not violating copyright, but if I don’t have a great ear and turn to a tab-sharing site, I am?
There’s clearly a market for this sort of thing, and if music publishers would get with the program, they could make some money here. These tab-sharing sites are fun, but they’re far from authoritative.
So the record industry proves the geek-chic crowd right. And we all know how annoying that is.