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Action on song lyric websites is misguided

Says online sheet music retailer

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Comment The Music Publishers’ Association of America (MPA) has announced a legal campaign targeted at unlicensed sheet music, lyrics and 'tab' sites, threatening to throw site owners into jail. But these unfortunate actions could do more damage than good.

Internet forum contributors and bloggers alike have spent the last few days flaming the MPA and distributing link upon link to lyrics and tab sites, just to teach them a lesson.

A guitar tab is a simple graphic presentation of a song corresponding to the strings of the guitar. It is easy to read and can be written with any text-only editor. However, as with any graphic presentation of a song (i.e. sheet music), a tab is covered by the copyright of the original work, even if it has been transcribed by a well-meaning fan (tabs usually are). This is not new. Distributing sheet music of a copyright-protected work without permission is illegal, whoever created it.

But getting this message across gently is more important than threatening jail sentences. Jail threats for site owners are unrealistic and unnecessarily inflammatory ("so now they want to jail us just for singing their songs too").

The comments by the MPA president, intentionally or otherwise, unfortunately give the impression that the whole business of downloading sheet music is illegal. No mention is made of the thriving and growing businesses run by legitimate websites with the full permission and agreement of publishers and authors.

The MPA action, contrary to its claims, is not proactive. If it were, the MPA would be promoting and supporting the legal music sites currently operating instead of waving jail terms at their adversaries. And following hot on the heels of a questionable cease and desist action by Warner Chappell against a lyrics search tool, the MPA opens itself up to the criticism being targeted already at the big music companies and the Recording Industry Association of America, albeit for completely difference reasons.

The MPA is right to act against violations of music copyrights. However, it would be well advised to do so hand-in-hand with the legal websites already operating and to do more to explain the sometimes difficult question of copyright restrictions, instead of angering the very people it needs to convince.

© Jonathan Irons

Jonathan Irons is CEO of SheetMusicNow.com, a legal digital sheet music site.

This article was originally published at OUT-LAW.com

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