The archive was begun in 1992 by James Bender as a holding place for all of the playing information that was being passed around on the guitar bulletin boards. Because of the sheer number of messages posted to the Usenet system, each posting is only kept on-line for a limited time (usually three days) before being removed. With the creation of the archive, files could be stored permanently and accessed by anyone with FTP or WWW access.
The archive was taken over by its current administrators in June of 1994 and has quadrupled in size since then. OLGA is probably the net's most popular guitar resource, serving, at a very conservative estimate, 200,000 requests per week.
The central site, which twenty others around the globe then copy (or 'mirror'), was at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). The entire archive is comprised of files that have been sent in by individual users from all over the net that they worked out themselves, in the case of chord and tab files by listening to the music and picking out the notes by ear and then thought others might want and appreciate. The archive does not charge any fee, and it is run by volunteers. OLGA is a prime example of the power of the Internet to bring people together in communities that work efficiently to produce a common good. The guitar archive is a massive Do-It-Youself project taken on by thousands of individuals, with great success.
OLGA depended on UNLV and other sites for distribution of the archive, though there is no official connection between OLGA and any of its hosts. OLGA is mirrored in Italy, South Africa, Germany, Poland, the United States and elsewhere. The only condition that OLGA organizers impose is that access must be made freely available to the Internet in general, even if the site mirroring the archive is commercial.
In January of 1996 EMI Publishing (U.S.A) sent a letter to UNLV (not to OLGA itself) alleging that it was in breach of U.S copyright law in holding OLGA and unless license was acquired it would employ all available means to enforce their rights. UNLV decided to close their site on February 8th while it considered its response. Another OLGA site in Tennessee closed quickly afterward, the site in Crete closed sometime around March 1st, and a site in Stuttgart around March 20th.
As of March 28th, UNLV had not had any reply from EMI to a letter they sent on Febraury 9th asking for clarification of EMI's initial letter, as that letter did not make it clear if EMI was referring to the whole archive, to files of music by EMI artists, or files for which EMI actually publishes score; nor was it specified exactly what law(s) were being broken. On April 25th, however, UNLV decided that it could not take the financial risks involved with a legal battle with EMI, and so decided to make their decision to deny FTP access to OLGA permanent.
EMI Publishing has forced the closure of several FTP sites around the globe with the mere threat of a suit. It has deprived users from playing materials that have nothing to do with EMI, such as lessons and software, and having achieved this, appears loathe to forward any process that would lead to a resolution of this matter. OLGA tried to contact EMI directly, but since EMI's representative did not seem to realise the involvement of OLGA as a body separate from UNLV, he put down the phone.
Even though many of OLGA's mirrors are still open, its capacity to serve requests has been seriously diminished. To the mounting frustration of its users and administrators alike, OLGA has been unable to influence EMI or UNLV, and since OLGA itself is not being threatened, it is not clear what legal action OLGA can take. Instead, OLGA supporters have been using the Internet to publicize the matter. A letter writing campaign has been started, as well as a boycott of all EMI music products, not just sheet music.
Users are infuriated by what they see as the short-sightedness of EMI. Many testify that they have spent more money on music products as a result of using OLGA, and challege EMI to demonstrate their loss of earnings. Many others support OLGA on legal grounds, claiming that sections of the US Copyright Act protect OLGA. EMI are widely seen to be attempting to force their interpretation of the law on an entity that it does not understand. As newcomers to the net, (EMI Publishing U.S does not have an email address) EMI's threat is being viewed as a knee-jerk reaction on the part of a corporate business eager to profit from the Internet goldrush, without taking the time to look around and habituate itself to the new environment. Meanwhile, at the same time as EMI Publishing is cracking down on OLGA, the EMI Records home page promotes fan-pages dedicated to EMI artists - some containing OLGA tablature! A copy of the index of OLGA was sent to EMI in July and again in September of 1996, in order that they could say which songs they were claiming rights to, with a view to licensing. Other than acknowledging receipt, no reply has been received from EMI.
Consultation with four different lawyers provided three different pieces of advice - one said we were dead wrong, another we were dead right, and two who said that the circumstances of the case are too novel to judge definitively. Based on this, and the obvious arrogance of EMI, the OLGA maintainers continued to work on the archive's behalf. This came to fruition in October 1996, when an updated archive was released to the mirrors (of which there were more than in the preceding February, but with less capacity) many of whom chose to accept the update. Another update was made on November 4th 1996.