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Guitar Notebooks: I’m tabbing out

Guitar Notebooks: I’m tabbing out

Cover of the Ukulele Guitar NotebookThe other day I was reacquainting myself with a Ukulele I had bought last year and realised that I could really do with a chord diagram and somewhere to jot down the list of songs that I was learning (and writing down the tab and chords to ones I was figuring out).

Why not just download a guitar app? Well, I did that but…

My phone worked some of the time, but after a few occasions of no battery (camping), someone else using the phone (kids), and the fact that playing the guitar is my opportunity to spend some time away from the computer I began to lean favourably towards notebooks. Plus, lots of my friends and colleagues wanted to or were already learning the guitar and told me it was something they would use — win win.

One of the reasons I started Back Pocket Notebooks was to create the kinds of notebooks that I love to use on a daily basis, and this seemed the perfect idea for a new set.

First Idea - Chords & History

All of the back pocket notebook range, with the exception of the soon to be launched Plain Kraft notebook (more on that soon) contain an educational inside cover. It’s a callout back to my early school workbooks with Maths and English explanations and something which I enjoy researching as well.

The inside covers for the set of Guitar Notebooks were:

  • Ukulele
    • Chord Diagrams
    • Description about the 3 types of Ukulele
  • Electric Guitar
    • Scale Diagrams
    • Description of the history and types of electric guitars
  • Acoustic Guitar
    • Chord Diagrams
    • Description about the history and types of acoustic guitars

This was great! Or at least it was great until I went on holiday and wanted to show someone the chords to “What a wonderful World/Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — which got me thinking.

Second Idea - Chords & Tab

I thought “What better way to show how the use the chords than to give the owner a song that they can learn the chords by playing along”.

It was genius (or so I thought at the time).

The idea was to drop the history and descriptions and replace them with a song that you could learn. The songs were:

  • Ukulele - Somewhere over the rainbow/What a wonderful world
  • Acoustic - Stand by Me
  • Electric - Stairway to Heaven (at least the introduction)

It was so perfect that I mocked it all up on my InDesign Templates and had emailed the files across to the printers for proofs.

I didn’t get it (copy)right.

On Saturday morning it came to me as I was spreading vegemite on toast and my little boy was asking me how factories were made (after I answered “how toasters were made by saying they were made in factories”).

Maybe, just maybe, I might need permission from the Artists if I wanted to print their song titles and lyrics in the notebooks. I was pretty sure the chords were fine because there's only so many ways chords can be arranged, but the title and lyrics could be a sticking point.

I head straight for my trusty copyright law advisor — Google.

It seemed that lots of writers had posed a similar question about the issues of including song lyrics as part of the book they were writing. The response was overwhelmingly similar — avoid it at all costs or be prepared to pay a lot of royalties. I even found an article from the Guardian on this exact topic which quotes:

For one line of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”: £500. For one line of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”: £535. For one line of “When I’m Sixty-four”: £735. For two lines of “I Shot the Sheriff” (words and music by Bob Marley, though in my head it was the Eric Clapton version): £1,000. Plus several more, of which only George Michael’s “Fastlove” came in under £200. Plus VAT. Total cost: £4,401.75.


I wasn’t quoting lines, I was writing ALL the lyrics!

There were also stories from a range of Guitar Tablature sites discussing the legal issues they had from publishers and labels around posting song tabs on their site.

One of the most common ways of getting around this seemed to be including a disclaimer that read something along the lines of “tab and lyrics are the users own interpretation of the song”. It turns out that this doesn’t really cut it and a lot (all?) of the tab sites pay royalties to the music owners (or the companies that hold the rights to the music at least).

Let me make this clear though — I’m not saying this is wrong and I should get to use them the way I want… far from it. This is more a story of making sure you’re covered against anything that could happen when you’re going to print with someone else’s stuff.

The solution to copyright on songs/tablature/lyrics

I ended up getting in touch with a Web Performance friend of mine who had a former life as a musician, who in turn put me in touch with someone who works in copyright infringement from one of the major record labels. We’re in email discussions at the moment but the three possible solutions I see to this are:

  1. Go back to the descriptions of the guitars
  2. Get permission/pay royalty for including the tab/chord/lyrics for those three songs
  3. Update the back page to a point where it doesn’t breach/infringe copyright

Unfortunately, I think the likely solution is the first one but check back here too so see how we got along.

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