Music News: Music Publishers Target Unlicensed Lyric Sites

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The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) is gunning for sites – including RapGenius – that it believes are reprinting music lyrics without getting the requisite licenses first.
It has sent takedown notices to 50 sites which it says are profiting from songwriters illegally. One of the most prominent is RapGenius, the New York-based startup that won $15 million in funding from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz last year. Others include Lyrics Mania, Lyrics Translate and ST Lyrics.
“Unlicensed lyric sites are largely ignored as copyright infringers, but in fact these sites generate huge web traffic and involve more money than one might think,” says songwriter and University of Georgia researcher David Lowery, who is working with the NMPA. “The lyric business is clearly more valuable in the internet age.”
The NMPA claims there are over five million searches for ‘lyrics’ on Google alone every day, and that over 50 percent of all lyric page views worldwide are on unlicensed lyric sites.
But, it says, it has no plans to go after the small fry. “This is not a campaign against personal blogs, fan sites, or the many websites that provide lyrics legally,” says NMPA president and CEO David Israelite. “NMPA is targeting fifty sites that engage in blatant illegal behavior, which significantly impacts songwriters’ ability to make a living.”
What’s debatable, though, is the extent to which simply reading a song’s lyrics does actually deprive the author financially. After all, legitimate sales of lyrics, in the form of sheet music, are these days pretty tiny.
But this may be misleading, says Lowery. “For example, we have found that the fully-licensed frequently ranks in the Top 500 websites in the US. Based on the popularity of lyric searches, it is possible that unlike the sound recording business, the lyric business may be *more valuable in the internet age,” he says.
This, of course, is because of advertising – indeed, Lowery claims that some companies are actively working to match specific lyrics to key demographics for advertisers.
The NMPA has already been successful in pursuing LiveUniverse and LyricWiki for what it says are similar infringements. It looks, though, as if Rap Genius at least will fight back. Founder Ilan Zechory told the New York Times that his site offers a great deal of added value to the lyrics it reproduces, including annotations from users, writers and performers – an indication that it may be looking to defend its actions on the grounds of fair use.

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