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Radiohead fan sites have been asked to remove their lyrics and tabs archives
June 3, 2003 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Radiohead fan sites have been asked to remove their lyrics and tabs archives. Yesterday, two popular Radiohead fan sites, Green Plastic and At Ease, were sent this email by a legal representative of Warner Bros. Publications and Warner/Chappell Music asking them to take down any lyrics and tabs from their site. The letter claimed "their distribution constitutes an infringement of our rights under U.S. Copyright Law. More than that, the availability of these files have a direct impact on our ability to market and sell our musical arrangements and songbooks, and that adversely affects the royalties that we are able to generate and pay to the band." Those opposed have started a petition online. Who's right on this one?
posted by josephtate (48 comments total)

 
I can't imagine any plausible scenarios in which this might adversely affect their royalties. I can think of quite a few where having the lyrics posted online *positively* affects their sales though, namely the "whats the name of that song on the radio? you know, the line that goes '....'. I'll look it up. Oh, Radiohead wrote that? I had no idea" scenario.
posted by JumpW at 9:44 AM on June 3, 2003


Hate to say it, but the lawyers are pretty much right. It's copyrighted material, and this is definitely a case where the Internet is infringing on a company's ability to make money off copyrighted material -- I mean, why pay $$ for a songbook when you can get lyrics and tabs for free online?

It sucks, but that's the law. All those other lyrics sites are basically working off the tolerance of the music publishers, who have no reason to stop them because most (lyrics and tabs of ) songs aren't of any value more than a year or two after first release.
posted by me3dia at 9:47 AM on June 3, 2003


Additionally, Follow Me Around, my fave Radiohead page, is 403'd.

Why do people hate record companies? They do it to themselves, they do.
posted by trharlan at 9:48 AM on June 3, 2003


Warner is, and it's not a royalty issue, it's a copyright one. Pick up a Guitar World magazine and you will see that the publisher has granted permission ( and in most cases received money ) to reprint the lyrics/music. It's called a print license.

It sucks, but with tabcrawler, tabrobot, olga, lyrics.com and the like, publishers of music books are really getting hurt. Not just that, but think of a song as a mini-novel. Someone can read your mini-novel for free on the internet, rather than buying the book.

Also, Cherry Lane, the publisher of Guitar World (and others), is also a publisher, and handles several of the print license administration for some of the bigger music publishers, so it does seem a bit unfair, but hey, welcome to big business.
posted by remlapm at 9:51 AM on June 3, 2003


i just wish the record companies would listen to the market rather than slapping it on the wrist and holding up a bible.
posted by oog at 9:59 AM on June 3, 2003


As someone who knows a bit about music, I'd like to step in and say that music tabs online and music books that one buys in a store are not the same thing. Online tabs are vastly less accurate and less professional - they're done by fans and they don't usually contain the light and shade of a professional book.

The other added complexities are that: a) Very few pop songs are legitimately available online as paid-for legal downloadable sheet music; and b) There isn't as far as I'm aware a songbook featuring all the sheet music to all Radiohead material ever.

In other words, it's not clear that these fan sites are directly competing with legitimately-sold sheet music. If Warner Chappell was to come up with a legal alternative to what the fans are offering, then I'd think they'd have a strong argument. As it stands, they're claiming copyright infringement solely to take down the work, but not in order to offer anything legal in its place.

The composers themselves - ie Radiohead - would not approve of this.
posted by skylar at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2003


Record companies are not the same as music publishers.

For those unaware, music publishing is where most bands (excluding the arena-rocking superstars, that is) make their money. Record contracts tend to pay just enough for the band to record an album, and maybe to not work another job while they're doing it; tours aren't very profitable, despite rising ticket prices. Publishing contracts give the band an upfront on their royalties, and in exchange the publisher goes through the hassle of collecting the royalties from radio stations, CD sales, etc. And publishers aren't all big corporations, either: BMI and ASCAP are semi-unions that publish music and collect royalties on behalf of their members.

I'm not saying the publishing companies are less evil than the record companies, just explaining how lyrics and tabs are more than just words and notes. They're often a band's only source of income.
posted by me3dia at 10:05 AM on June 3, 2003


Whatever the legal reality of the demand, it is interesting timing. And by "interesting" I mean to say "stoopid."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:07 AM on June 3, 2003


Regardless of the right/wrong of the issue, I think Warner should be commended for sending a letter worded the way they did. No overt threats, no legalese, just, "hey, here's the situation. this is our request..."
posted by dobbs at 10:16 AM on June 3, 2003


Online tabs are vastly less accurate and less professional - they're done by fans and they don't usually contain the light and shade of a professional book.
This is by no means always true. In the first place, most commercially available songbooks are done in a piano/vocal/guitar arrangement style which does not intend to be an actual transcription of a recording. Often the key has been changed and the chord changes simplified. I have seen fan sites with tabs or midi files that were unbeliveably accurate and well done. Of course, there are many poorly done ones as well.
posted by crunchburger at 10:20 AM on June 3, 2003


I don't care so much about the tabs (I am not a musician) but I have always appreciated the ability to look up Radiohead lyrics online, since their recent albums have not included the lyrics in the jewelcase. I should not have to go buy a book to learn the lyrics of a song.

I've tried to be a good sport: I downloaded the Amnesiac album from the 'net long before it was officially released, but when it hit the stores, I bought a copy. If this is the sort of stance the band is going to take, then perhaps I won't be purchasing Hail To The Thief. I will, however, keep listening to it...
posted by /\/\/\/ at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2003


You know what? There are some folks who can play a song without needing sheet music -or even a chart-of any given song. So are we violating copyright?
posted by konolia at 10:24 AM on June 3, 2003


dont mean to be a prick, but boohoo for the fansite
posted by Peter H at 10:25 AM on June 3, 2003


Lyrics, they may have a point on (legally; ethically is another matter).

But the tablature on the web is just somebodys interpretation of how to play a piece. That's not coprighted, as far as I know, unless the tab was literally copied out of a bought tab book - which doesn't really happen.

It would imply they could prosecute every guitar tutor who jotted down the chords to 'stairway to heaven' for a student.
posted by cell at 10:25 AM on June 3, 2003


As far as tabs are concerned, I can see why the record company might want them taken down, (it'd be like posting a book's text, or a screenplay online, when there are copies available for sale) but that's no reason for demanding lyrics are removed.

They don't exist in isolation, and can cause no conceivable harm to the band or record company. They don't sell books of lyrics, do they?

Silly, grasping, overly-controlling, power-crazed record company.
posted by Blue Stone at 10:31 AM on June 3, 2003


As a long time Radiohead fan, I'm really interested to know what the band are going to do after their record deal ends (this'll happen pretty soon).

The whole band have had an anti-industry stance for years now. Back in the day, Colin went on the BBC's Newsnight to advocate file sharing and napster (real required). Just last week, Thom said the band would be "completely unrecognizable in two years". But then, two weekends ago, MTV were allowed to record a Radiohead show in London - then again, Thom mouthed off about their presence the whole way through the gig.

So, the question is, will Radiohead follow through at the end of their record contract, and become the first, mainstream, popular music act to say goodbye to the record labels and run things the way they want, using the net..? I sure hope so.
posted by ascullion at 10:34 AM on June 3, 2003


And now watch how I empty the ocean with my mighty teaspoon!

Here is a novel idea: maybe music publishing on dead trees (let's not forget that detail, BTW - who is defending the right of vanishing nature these days of angry companies imposing their views?) is on its way out. Or maybe it needs to lower or raise prices. Or maybe it desperately needs/wants to turn back the clock a few years ... which brings me back to my mighty teaspoon.

BTW, good point, Dobbs.
posted by magullo at 10:48 AM on June 3, 2003


Hmm. What if I show my friend how to play a Radiohead song? Paranoid Android can be difficult to decipher, even with a tab in front of you. What if I only play part of it? "Hey Mike, want to come over and jam/violate copyright?"

Oh the legal horror. Oh the legal horror. They killed a little online community ... or spent millions trying.
posted by mrmcsurly at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2003


I was under the impression that TAB files were legal, as they didn't contain the melody. You really can't just look at a tab an know how to play a song.
posted by delmoi at 11:14 AM on June 3, 2003


Well, tab has no rhythmic notation. It is inferior to standard notation in almost every way.
posted by crunchburger at 11:28 AM on June 3, 2003


Listen to live Thom Yorke interview here & preview of the album HTTT. (yet another reason why I love the BBC: come back in a few days if you missed it live, it's archived here for 7 days i think)
posted by dash_slot- at 11:53 AM on June 3, 2003


Delmoi, could it be that you're thinking of the legal action that The Harry Fox Agency took against OLGA in the late 90's, which resulted in them removing all of the lyrical content from their tabs (as that was the content that was actually legally disputable)? I forget exactly why that turned out to be an easy solution, but it sounds like Warner wouldn't go for it in this case.

Also, Crunchburger, tab could be more useful than Standard Notation if tabbers actually understood Standard. I know that when i tab i include full rhythmic notation alongside the hammeron and slide marks that tab renders so easy to comprehend. However, as many guitarists do not read sheet music at all, my efforts are probably entirely lost on them, rendering my tabs just as quality as the next guy's.

In terms of Warner's legal action, it is important to remember that tab is effectively the best medium through which a song can be learned by the vast majority of amateur rock guitarists in America (and probably around the world). Guitars are readily available, and readily playable through internet instruction and help from friends, neither of whom tend to push the ability to fluently read sheet music. Especially considering the nature of RH's music and how many guitar-wielding fans are out there, a sheet-music book with no tab would be relatively useless to the public. Thus, good tab sites pose a big threat to impending music publishing deals.

Personally, i wouldn't buy Radiohead sheet music unless it was Full Score, a la the massive Beatles Score Book. In any other format it will inevitably be incomplete.
posted by krisis at 11:53 AM on June 3, 2003


There are some folks who can play a song without needing sheet music -or even a chart-of any given song. So are we violating copyright?

That depends on where the song is performed. At home, no problem. In public, problem. If the venue has a blanket license from ASCAP, BMI or SESAC (whichever the song is registered with) the license will cover the performance of the composition.
posted by anathema at 12:03 PM on June 3, 2003


Is it illegal to publish the lyrics to a song in another language? Where translation is open to interpretation, I would expect that it would be allowed. I can see copyrighting the words "Oops I did it again", but what about "Alors, il l'ont fait encore" or "Aide! Je l'ai fait encore". Britney can't possible own those too, can she? It seems to me that tablatures are the same thing. You're not publishing the music, just an interpretation of the music.
posted by jpoulos at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2003


If this is the sort of stance the band is going to take, then perhaps I won't be purchasing Hail To The Thief.

I have very serious doubts that Radiohead themselves are behind this. I'd say they probably care very little about that. There was an old thread, I think it was At Ease , about the new leaked album, about a month ago. I believe Johnny was involved in the thread and basically shrugged his shoulders when he found out it had been leaked. That, coupled with their adamant backing of Naomi Klein's No Logo and the like, makes me think this is a purely record company deal.
posted by Espoo2 at 12:28 PM on June 3, 2003


We got one of these at nancies.org about a month ago. We, basically, told them to suck us gently. Haven't heard from them since.
posted by waldo at 1:27 PM on June 3, 2003


If this is the sort of stance the band is going to take, then perhaps I won't be pirating Hail To The Thief.
posted by VulcanMike at 1:32 PM on June 3, 2003


I've never liked Radiohead's attitude towards this kind of thing. Taping any of their concerts is strictly forbidden under all circumstances. Now fans can't share tabs and lyrics?

It's no wonder I don't listen to their music.
posted by tomorama at 2:40 PM on June 3, 2003


Uh, what? Radiohead have to be one of the more fan-friendly bands out there in terms of giving stuff away (it helps to be an 800lbs gorilla of course). I don't think Thom Yorke woke up on the wrong side of the bed of rusty nails he clearyl sleeps on and said, "Oi've 'ad it wif duh bluddy tabs!"

Follow Me Around isn't 403'd anymore.
posted by yerfatma at 4:26 PM on June 3, 2003


I recall, some time ago, Thom Yorke waxing Yorkeish about how irritated he was by the fact that when someone writes a novel, the copyright is held under their name (ie. Copyright William Gibson, 2003), whereas, when an artist (even Radiohead) releases an album, it's Copyright Warner Music, 2003. Which sucks.

Not just that, but think of a song as a mini-novel. Someone can read your mini-novel for free on the internet, rather than buying the book.

I once attended a lecture on songwriting and, well, writing. It was concluded that listening to a song without the music was like reading a novel without any pacing, punctuation or emphasis. It's half a book.

dont mean to be a prick, but boohoo for the fansite

Prick. It's boohoo for the fans, mainly. And I'm one of them.
posted by armoured-ant at 4:46 PM on June 3, 2003


Tomorama, I expect that Radiohead had nothing to do with the decision. It was probably all the doing of their record company, who I am not certain but suspect actually owns at least a portion of the copyright to the songs in print form.

I expect that this will blow over. Radiohead will probably say something to the effect that they don't care about it and I also wouldn't be surprised if, after their deal expires, Radiohead goes independent as Pearl Jam is.
posted by synecdoche at 4:52 PM on June 3, 2003


I thought that the recording (eg: a cd) was owned by the recording company. While the songs (eg: sheet music) were owned by the artist.

To copy a cd you must have the permission of the label.
To play a song you must have permission of the artist (ascap, bmi, etc represent the artists).

When you hear a song on the radio (unless it's internet radio, who pays the artist AND the labels, but that's another rant altogether) the station should be paying a royalty to ascap/bmi, NOT the record labels. Of course the payola offsets that, but that's yet another rant.

So my question is, if my understanding is right, what business does a label have telling somebody to take down lyrics/tab? That's the artist's job.
posted by klaruz at 5:12 PM on June 3, 2003


I'm just trying to think about this in the context of, say, software code. If you implement code copied straight from another copyrighted software application (say, you look at Microsoft's shared source) in your own software, you're pretty clearly in trouble. But what if you just implement the same functionality without ever viewing the original code? Isn't writing tabs a bit like that?

I think it's a case where infringement of copyright is just too easy. I can listen to a song, work out the chords are C-Am-F-G7, write that simple combination of letters on a piece of paper, and I've violated copyright? Get real! That's about as realistic as saying that KDE has violated Windows copyright by implementing a file-open dialogue box with shortcuts.

Add to this the issue of how prohibitively expensive "legit" sheet music is. Where I am, the sheet music to an album costs, on average, twice as much as the CD of an album itself. Kids wanting to learn to play guitar simply can't afford it, and TABs, as someone else said, are the simplest and cheapest way. Once again, the music publishers are failing to capitalize on a market, and are complaining when others do.
posted by Jimbob at 5:31 PM on June 3, 2003


(Apologies to the possibly thousands of copyright owners out there who's life work I have just threatened by typing "C-Am-F-G7")
posted by Jimbob at 5:34 PM on June 3, 2003


"Oi've 'ad it wif duh bluddy tabs!"

they're from Oxford. the correct translation should read oive addddd it wiv der blurrdy taaaaaabs oi aiv, an sos moi old dear
posted by ciderwoman at 6:23 PM on June 3, 2003


(Apologies to the possibly thousands of copyright owners out there who's life work I have just threatened by typing "C-Am-F-G7")

"Heart and Soul". Everybody here has probably plinked that one out at least once in their lifetime.
posted by konolia at 6:27 PM on June 3, 2003


I can listen to a song, work out the chords are C-Am-F-G7, write that simple combination of letters on a piece of paper, and I've violated copyright?
Only if you jot it out neatly and start sharing it with other people or performing in it public settings.

Skylar mentioned "There isn't as far as I'm aware a songbook featuring all the sheet music to all Radiohead material ever".

Well, not including the latest release, they have five previous albums and there are five fairly thick music books available (one per album) ... so it appears that you can get all the sheet music to all the songs they have done so far.

If Warner Chappell was to come up with a legal alternative ...

They have. Three of the books include guitar tablature (the other two are the usual guitar/piano/vocal types with chords only I believe) and all of them have been published by Warner Brothers.

Yes, I guess it sucks for the fans, but if they really want to play one of those songs, then they either need to learn how to play guitar well enough to sort it out on their own or buy one of the books.
posted by Orb at 6:32 PM on June 3, 2003


Konolia: Not to mention all these folk.
posted by Jimbob at 6:39 PM on June 3, 2003


Now you've done it, Jimbob. Lawyers across the known universe are sniffing the wind now...
posted by konolia at 6:51 PM on June 3, 2003


they're from Oxford

Oh, I know Yorke isn't meeting his chinas down the boozer anytime soon. It was so hard to imagine getting very worked up over guitar tabs I figured I'd take it one step further.
posted by yerfatma at 7:05 PM on June 3, 2003


Most tabs I download have this disclaimer at the top of the file which I believe is one way people protect the author/file/web site by indicating it is protected by fair use rights:

#------------------------PLEASE NOTE-----------------------#
#This file is the author's own work and represents their #
# interpretation of the song. You may only use this file #
# for private study, scholarship, or research. #
#----------------------------------------------------------#


Any experts know if this is still enough of a defense against these types of legal threats?

Also, on a personal note, thanks to the person who talked about how tab allows amateur guitarists to quickly learn basic skills (ie. enough for campfire playing/jamming with friends/etc.) That's me. I bought a guitar in 1995 when a guitarist friend showed me OLGA and how easy it was to teach yourself guitar using online resources. I've played ever since. I doubt I would have taken the steps to become a guitarist otherwise (take expensive lessons, buy expensive songbooks, etc.)

To me, it's the same argument that applies to sharing MP3's. If you download a song (tab), you never would've bought otherwise, is it still a lost sale? Or does downloading music (tab) make you more likely to buy the album (songbook). In my case, I have bought a couple songbooks (ie. the Compleat Beatles Scores mentioned above) that, if it weren't for the Net and freely available tab, I never would have purchased.
posted by Jaybo at 10:03 PM on June 3, 2003


I did a dissertation at Law School on the closure of OLGA and whether 'reverse engineered' written music (working backwards from sound to paper) constituted breach of copyright held by the owners in the jurisdiction of New Zealand.

unfortunately although broadly speaking it is not illegal in New Zealand I took far to many drugs in the mid nineties to remember any more details.

I did catch Radiohead in 1993 at Warners in Cathedral Square and the gig rocked!!
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:42 AM on June 4, 2003


Given the price of a 'real' tab book, this, I reckon, is just as much about profit as copyright.

These things are like video game strategy guides. They cost, in all, less than £1 to produce. The poor bastard who notated every note from the album will get a fixed sum, then be sent off to distill the notes from another album. The record company, meanwhile, rake in profit five or ten times the cost.
posted by armoured-ant at 3:18 AM on June 4, 2003


Orb - I wasn't talking about album material, I was talking about the b-sides and obscurities. I was trying to point out the differences between sites which cater to a hardcore fan's needs and the books, which are a very different beast.
posted by skylar at 3:40 AM on June 4, 2003


Forty-four comments and no one has yet mentioned the liner notes in OK Computer, which read:

all songs are published by warner chappell ltd. lyrics used by kind permission even though we wrote them.

Whenever I hear recording-industry apologists claiming that overzealous defense of copyright is all done for the sake of the artists, I remember that line. OK Computer, if I recall correctly, is also the last Radiohead album with any printed lyrics at all. Coincidence?
posted by skoosh at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2003


Coincidental timing; today we received a promo copy of Hail To The Thief in the office. Not only does it include full printed lyrics but also Copy Control protection which manifests itself as audible pops throughout all tracks when played through a cdrom drive. Nice. If the retail version is the same then I won't be purchasing it.

Interestingly all the tracks have two names. "There There" is also referred to as "The Boney King Of Nowhere" which are what the lyrics are listed under.
posted by gi_wrighty at 11:18 AM on June 4, 2003


Copy Control protection which manifests itself as audible pops throughout all tracks when played through a cdrom drive

Eh. There's a way around it. What these record companies don't yet understand is that whatever a conventional CD player plays is ultimately just data, and there's always a way to get at the data.

That said, I better be able to play the album on my iPod.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:58 PM on June 4, 2003


oive addddd it wiv der blurrdy taaaaaabs oi aiv, an sos moi old dear

well, what a larf!

The lads went to a public (read: private/paid for) school 5 miles from Oxford called Abingdon School ( I pass it every day on my way to work). As we all know, the middle class accent in the UK is pretty much how - say - Eddie Izzard, or Tony Blair speak: posh, in a word. It's RP, or 'Received pronunciation'. Whereas I, a working class boy who went to a comprehensive (read: public/free), don't speak like that, either - and you could hardly get more Oxford than me.

Here endeth my mission to explain class differences to furriners.

/derail
posted by dash_slot- at 5:00 PM on June 4, 2003


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