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Summary:

Anyone can sing a song in the shower, but can they also post the lyrics on a website? In the case of commercial sites, publishers are saying no, and they have copyright law on their side.

Fat cat, money
photo: Aptyp_koK

Should anyone be free to publish song lyrics? Not if the National Music Publishers Association gets its way: the publishers are warning 50 websites, including high-flying Rap Genius, to take the lyrics down or get a license — or face a copyright lawsuit. [Update: Rap Genius has reportedly agreed to a license from Sony.]

As Billboard reported, the sites in the copyright crosshairs are those named in an October paper by David Lowery, a musician and academic who is a vocal anti-piracy advocate. He said the sites “generate huge traffic” and that the “lyric business is clearly more valuable in the Internet age.”

I normally treat Lowery, who has made considerable mischief over Pandora and Spotify, with a big grain of salt. But in this case he has a point.

Just as commercial sites can’t publish copyrighted poems without permission — US copyright law protects all fixed, original artistic works — they can’t simply help themselves to song lyrics (indeed, I recall Paul Simon’s “Sounds of Silence” being included in my high school poetry anthology).

The devil, of course, will be in the details. Will the publishers and the lyrics sites be able to agree at a reasonable rate? Or will the publishers make outrageous licensing demands and simply force the sites out of business — to the detriment of the vibrant fan and artistic communities.

For Simon & Garfunkle fans, here’s (a licensed version) of Sounds of Silence:

  1. typo in the first sentence. SERIOUSLY?

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    1. fixed, thanks for flagging

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  2. Jeff:
    Many many lyrics sites are already licensed and paying what must be reasonable rates (they have been in business for many many years). I’m hoping this study helps not only songwriters but the legitimate websites (and apps like Shazam) that pay royalties to songwriters.

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  3. I think any site that has even one piece of advertising or revenue generating property should have to pay a license fee. Any site that derives absolutely no income from lyrics posted on their page should be free to post however many they have space for.

    Copyright should be about protecting the artist from unfair competition but I don’t think it should stifle the fan that may want to post lyrics on their page with no intention on generation money and thus competition.

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  4. I tend to disagree, not with the substance of the argument, but with the landscape.

    A 50+ year copywrite is ridiculous. Congratulations on your fame and fortune, but writing a great song 50 + years ago should not entitle you to a check anytime someone copies 7 similar notes in their latest melody. You had your time, you had your fortune and you shouldn’t be able to sit on a product, any product, that long.

    The country needs a more robust and free market for new music (or any IP) than that. Someone who’s 20 should be able to make their own money unimpeded by any music written more than 10-15 years prior.

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  5. g2-9ed9acc685824c6663c51c5b093476cc Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    Know what’s a good point? That copyright time limits are insanely too long.

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  6. The uploader hasn’t made the video available in my country. And that’s what’s wrong with these copywrite laws.

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  7. Lyrics have virtually 0 value without the music,those sites are used when listening to the music and there is no need to pay twice. Just because someone makes some money out of it ,it doesn’t mean they should have the right to a piece of it.
    In fact maybe the music should always come with lyrics and when needed translation of those lyrics. If lyrics are an important part of the music then incomprehensible lyrics should be considered unacceptable and to avoid that ,lyrics should always be present. Let the damn MAFIAA pay for that.

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    1. I feel there is some truth to having people pay for lyrics because it is the creative piece that makes up a song and should be protected as such. However, if we pay for songs with the lyrics in them, and then we pay for just written lyrics, then aren’t we paying for the same creative piece twice? Like realjjj said, all the songs should be required to have the lyrics in the album or a data file when we download songs, unless they come up with a license type where it states anyone is free to use the lyrics in a personal sense.

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  8. I dont agree, so if I know a song off by heart and publish it on a site then I have to pay? what if i sing the song at kareoke should I also pay a fee then?https://storageous.wordpress.com/

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  9. Why the music industry has yet to come up with a vehicle for songwriters to be compensated for the use of their works in a user friendly way- it doesn’t seem like it would be rocket science- considering we are in the technology age- I can’t believe the industry doesn’t band together and create ONE unified process and put together an app and or website -some vehicle where people could legally pay for use of lyrics or songs etc -instead of throwing all their money away with lawyers and lawsuits.

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