Wisconsin: it's home to broomball, sharp cheddar, and (strange but true) cranberry bogs. This last week, the Badger State added "home of legal guitar tablature service" to its list of distinctives.Madison-based Musicnotes announced a licensing agreement with the Harry Fox Agency that will bring legal, ad-supported tabs back to the 'Net.
Tablature is a simplified system of guitar notation that is useful for players who can't read the standard notes and staff. Enthusiasts across the Internet created tens of thousands of these tablature files and sent them to sites like the Online Guitar Archive (OLGA) until the music industry cracked down on the practice.
Claiming that they alone have the right to reproduce music (even if that music iswritten downby volunteers), the Music Publishers Association and its licensing subsidiary the Harry Fox Agency managed to shutter the major tablature sites in the US last year.
Now, under a new agreement reached with Musicnotes (one of the largest publishers of sheet music), Harry Fox will allow the company to offer tablature so long as it splits its advertising revenue with the music publishers. The new service will launch this summer at MXTabs.net, which Musicnotes recently acquired.
"Musicnotes proves the viability of a copyright-friendly, ad-supported guitar tab web site," said Gary Churgin, the CEO of Harry Fox, in a statement. "HFA has expanded its licensing and royalty distribution capabilities to support this kind of service, and we will continue to adapt to new licensing opportunities and models such as this to provide the most comprehensive service for our publishers."
There's one major snag, though: even though a deal is in place with Harry Fox, each copyright owner still needs to agree before Musicnotes can put tablature from their musicians online. This means that the archive will likely develop in a piecemeal fashion as publishers sign on.
In addition, the site will be making its money from users, who create and edit the tabs in question. Users get free access to legal tabs, while Musicnotes and music publishers get the cash. Will guitar players want to donate their time and energy to propping up The Man? Probably, if the site is slick, enough publishers sign on, and everything is fast and simple to use. The success of sites like YouTube is proof that plenty of people are willing to work for free when it comes to content they love, and this looks to be the only way to do it legally in the US at the moment.