When up and coming, and sometimes already famous, musicians wanted to find guitar tablature to their favorite songs, there was one place that was familiar to all of them. The place that connected them all, famous and not-so-famous, to each other as educators and learners, was OLGA. No, OLGA is not your cousin’s mail-order bride from Russia, but an acronym for one of the best non-profit guitar tablature archives in the history of the Internet.
The On-Line Guitar Archive (OLGA), has been around since (and probably before) I was a beginning guitarist at 16 (I’m now 25), and has been my one-stop resource to find tablature to my favorite band’s music. I can’t play “by ear” like some musicians and have to have something to look at to teach me, so buying the sheet music and OLGA for the unavailable sheet music were the only resources for me.
Like most young musicians, I was ecstatic when I learned how to play The Eagles “Hotel California” or another favorite tune correctly for the first time. However, those days of joy came to an abrupt halt a few days ago.
After a long hiatus from playing the guitar (got married, had children, had no time, etc), I picked up the guitar again and decided to hit up my favorite site for some new Bowling for Soup guitar tablature. I excitably took my wireless capable laptop downstairs to my new practice room (my wife still calls it the basement), and punched in the still-familiar web address, http://www.olga.net, and quickly pressed the “Go” key.
My palms were already getting sweaty, anxiously awaiting to learn the correct tab notation for “High School Never Ends.” After a few seconds of loading, the home page appeared…and I was floored with disappointment. The OLGA home page had been replaced with a notice saying that the archive was currently offline while the owners are attempting to resolve legal issues with the archive.
It then goes on to explain that they received a “take-down” notice from lawyers representing the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) and the Music Publishers’ Association (MPA), instructing them to take down the website or face further legal action for copyright infringement. The website includes links to both websites, and copies of both letters that they received.
The Napster disaster is happening all over again, I told myself. Only this time, the victim is not just people downloading illegal copies of music to save money. It is both the pro musicians and amateur musicians, who have a genuine interest in learning how to play their favorite band’s music and honoring their heroes.
Let’s not forget that even the famous bands “cover” their favorite artists songs at performances. Not too long ago, Bowling for Soup did a cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones at Download Festival 2007. They have also covered Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” and Fergie’s “London Bridge” before. Even famous musicians have to learn these songs from somewhere. Some learn by sight by watching their heroes perform live, some learn by ear by listening to the artists over and over again, but others learn by tablature, like that found on OLGA.
For those of us that learn by tablature, our best resource is now unavailable. Hopefully, this is a temporary setback, but there is that possibility that this could be a permanent setback and if it goes to court, the court could rule against OLGA. However, along with the rest of the music world, I am hoping that this won’t happen.
I’m hoping that the court or the NMPA and MPA will see that Sections 107 and 108 (Limitation on exclusive rights: Fair Use and Limitation on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives, respectively) of United States Copyright Law apply to our beloved friend, OLGA.
Section 107 states “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”
I firmly believe that OLGA was made solely for the purpose of teaching others, not for any profit or gain. OLGA never claimed ownership to the material it published and always gave credit to the original authors of the music in question. Unlike other sites, OLGA never charged us to view the tablature, so they made no profitable gain by teaching us how to play our favorite songs on the guitar.
Section 108 states “it is not an infringement of copyright for a library or archives, or any of its employees acting within the scope of their employment, to reproduce no more than one copy or phonorecord of a work, except as provided in subsections (b) and (c), or to distribute such copy or phonorecord, under the conditions specified by this section, if –
(1) the reproduction or distribution is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage;
(2) the collections of the library or archives are (i) open to the public, or (ii) available not only to researchers affiliated with the library or archives or with the institution of which it is a part, but also to other persons doing research in a specialized field; and
(3) the reproduction or distribution of the work includes a notice of copyright that appears on the copy or phonorecord that is reproduced under the provisions of this section, or includes a legend stating that the work may be protected by copyright if no such notice can be found on the copy or phonorecord that is reproduced under the provisions of this section.”
Once again, I firmly believe that OLGA is considered an archive (hence, the title On-Line Guitar ARCHIVE), that OLGA reproduced the material without any purpose of commercial advantage, the archive was open to the public, and always gave credit to the original authors.
NMPA and MPA will disagree with my stance on the issue, stating that OLGA is not an archive and that OLGA makes financial gains through other sources on their website containing the sheet music. As far as I can tell, there wasn’t any advertising on the OLGA website, and if there was, the vast majority of the public did not know, therefore, OLGA did not make a commercial gain from “other sources” posted on their website.
MPA also has an ongoing lawsuit against YouTube, with one of the factors being that YouTube allows users to upload their videos of concerts. If a band allows a video camera, cell phone, or other video recording material, into their concert, then the band has inadvertently agreed to have their material recorded for personal use. I could understand this lawsuit if the video was then remade and sold for a profit for the person who recorded it, however, once again, no financial gains have been made.
However, that in itself, is another whole article. I e-mailed both the NMPA and the MPA and asked for comments, and was either ignored or refused. I also e-mailed the owner of the OLGA website and received no response.
I will end this article by stating that we, as musicians (both pro and amateur), need to take a stand and say “Enough is enough.” NMPA and MPA are both trying to misconstrue the United States Copyright Law for financial gain (look at their websites, www.nmpa.org and www.mpa.org and see the settlements they have and are asking for), and trying to prevent all musicians from an education through available resources. If we all stand up together, and show the NMPA and MPA, that both professional and amateur musicians are negatively affected by these lawsuits, then maybe we can get back to the joyful days of learning “Hotel California” and paying homage to our heroes once again.