Music Publishers Now Suing Lyrics Sites And Their Execs

from the and-on-it-goes dept

Last week, we noted that LyricWiki had been pressured to kill its API after music publishers threatened it with a lawsuit. In the comments to that post, someone insisted that there haven’t been any lawsuits over lyrics online. If that’s true, it just changed. Apparently the removal of the API wasn’t enough, as the parent company of LyricWiki, Motive Force Web, along with LiveUniverse (the site run by former MySpace exec Brad Greenspan) have both been sued by a group of music publishers, who are insisting that such sites are unfairly “profiting on the backs of songwriters.” I’d really like to see them prove that. These sites aren’t profiting off the backs of songwriters, they’re helping more people find and understand the lyrics of songs they like. That gives fans a closer connection to the music and more reason to buy things which will actually bring songwriters money. It’s stunning how shortsighted and backwards the music publishers are being here.

Even worse, the music publishers didn’t stop at just suing the two companies here. They also sued the individuals behind them personally. This is a trick that the record labels have been pulling lately as well. It’s legalized bullying. These companies realize that by suing execs of these companies personally, it puts that much more pressure on those execs to settle, even though there’s no basis whatsoever to go after those execs personally.

So, nice job Peermusic, Warner/Chappell, Bug Music and your lobbying buddies at the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), you’ve pissed off more music fans, made them less likely to find or be interested in music of the songwriters you represent, and have filed misguided lawsuits against individuals who dared to try to provide useful information to the public.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: bug music, liveuniverse, motive force web, nmpa, peermusic, warner/chappell

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Comments on “Music Publishers Now Suing Lyrics Sites And Their Execs”

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

I was going to say the exact same thing.

Publishers have been threatening lyrics sites for as long as I can remember. Way back in the mid 90s. But yet they’ve refused to offer any alternative. If publishers really wanted to get rid of these lyrics sites, they could do it by releasing a better site. I won’t me holding my breath while I wait for that to happen.

Ben Smith (profile) says:

Re: Internet Strikes Back

@ Call me Al,

I would love to see some backlash like that too, but unfortunately in this scenario the backlash would punish consumers just as much as it would the record labels and other lawsuit-happy asshats. Blacklisting certain publishers would make it that much more difficult for consumers to find the lyrics they want, which pretty much defeats the purpose of our efforts to have free access to this kind of information.

Besides, even if there was a blacklist, someone else would fill the void with another site. It’s the nature of the internet.


rbry says:

Re: Re:

Screw em. There is a reason there are no more record stores and it aint just because of MP3’s. They blew it with Napster and they are going to blow it again. The reason there are illegal downloads is because they are tools not for any other reason. Crap I would download music I didn’t even listen to just to anoy them, freakin tools

Nick (profile) says:

Opportunity for competition

This is a great opportunity for the music labels to actually compete in this space. The cost would be low (the number of ad-funded lyrics site is evidence enough for this) and the returns would likely be high. The labels could put some money into SEO to make sure the site shows up at the top of any search results. Plus, everyone would start linking to the “official” lyrics for a song.

Another benefit is that the lyrics would be correct. Most times I visit a lyrics site (as a result of searching Google of a line from the song in order to find out what it was and to go buy it on iTunes), some of the lyrics are clearly wrong or are misspelled. This would eradicate that issue as well.

Speaking of all the incorrect lyrics… it would be amusing for one of these lyrics companies to claim a fair use defense because enough of the content is different form the original that it’s not really a copy, even though it was intended to be. THEN the record company lawyers might then be ready to talk about intentions…

Stephen says:

people are lazy

You know, for a reason entirely unrelated to copyright, I’m glad companies are forcing lyric and guitar tab sights off the internet: because they let musicians be lazy. When I was a kid (and, yes, I guess that makes me old), if you wanted lyrics, you listened to the song and wrote them down. If you wanted the guitar tab, you listened to the song and figured it out. This made you better at guitar and got you more in touch with the construction of the lyrics.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: people are lazy

We’re not all musicians, steve. I don’t want to know the lyrics because I want to sing them, I want to know because I can’t understand him– or better yet, I only remember one line and would like to know what song it comes from.

Also, just because you did it in between defending your village from mammoth attacks doesn’t mean we should be forced to do it that way…

..or do you still ride a horse to work?

Thanks for playing though.

Auditrix (profile) says:

Additional Information

Although I completely disagree with Mr. Masnick on this matter, I thought he would be interested to know some of the back story, according to an insider I know:

Live Universe endeavored to license the lyrics from publishers. It went to the expense and trouble of executing most of the licenses, ran out of money and never paid the advances. Live Universe’s goal was to have legal sites and work with the publishers to shut down unlicensed competing sites (the sites that Mr. Masnick supports).

So, Live Universe didn’t want to be an unlicensed site, but it became one.

Not only did Live Universe fail to live up to its deals with publishers, but it also failed to make the advances and payments it was required to make to the original owners of the lyrics sites it acquired. Therefore, Live Universe may no longer own or control the sites in question because the original webmaters might have taken back back the ownership, and some of these webmasters are outside the USA, so they will avoid the current litigation.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Additional Information

I’m sorry miss, but you don’t see any problem with the fact that you have to pay someone money to create a database of their lyrics? How does this hurt them at all?

They don’t have any similar service to compete with.

No one reads the lyrics to a song and feels as if that is a fair substitute to listening to said song. In fact, more likely (as has been said above) the searcher is looking for the title of the song knowing only a few lyrics with the intent to buy said song.

This is all ass backwards, and you jumped to be first in line. Where does that put you?

For shame.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Additional Information

I do find some of your points interesting (though I wish you’d link me to some source material)

More importantly, I find your job title on your blog VERY interesting:

“As Vice President of Hurewitz & Co. Royalty Auditors, I hold major companies worldwide accountable to those with IP interests.”

Not that that invalidates your opinion, but that IS the sort of thing you might want to disclose if you want people to continue trusting you.

Auditrix (profile) says:

Re: Re: Additional Information

Hi Marcus,

I try to disclose my professional bias via my “Auditrix” username and links. However, when I mention in posts that I am a royalty auditor, I am often accused of plugging my services, so it is difficult to strike the right balance between disclosure and self-promotion.

In general, I usually disagree with Techdirt, but I like to read and discuss anyway.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Additional Information

Fair enough – I am not by any means accusing you of hiding your affiliations.

But in a case like this, people would be right to question your motives. You have provided information that I agree would change the story, but it comes from an anonymous “insider”. Sometimes that’s acceptable, but when it is passed along by someone with (I assume) a financial/career interest in the outcome of a situation like this, it becomes a bit harder to take at face value.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Additional Information

Live Universe endeavored to license the lyrics from publishers. It went to the expense and trouble of executing most of the licenses, ran out of money and never paid the advances. Live Universe’s goal was to have legal sites and work with the publishers to shut down unlicensed competing sites (the sites that Mr. Masnick supports).

So, Live Universe didn’t want to be an unlicensed site, but it became one.

I don’t see how that makes much of a difference. It still doesn’t explain why music publishers would be so shortsighted as to try to take down lyrics sites.

It still doesn’t explain why they’re suing the individuals personally.

All it suggests is that Brad was suckered into a bad deal (not for the first time, apparently).

Anonymous Coward says:

Quit whining, and quit yer thieving. Perhaps if people would stop trying t make money off of everyone else’s work and went on and did their own, there wouldn’t be issued.

In the end, as Auditrix mentions, a real, legit, and legal site was run out of business by thieving thugs, willing to make a buck but not willing to pay for the goods.

Mike, I have no idea how you can stand up for people who are obviously stealing. It makes you look like a chump.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Just because someone is in a legal position to make money from consumers who want to view lyrics, and just because they CAN do it, doesn’t mean they ought to. First and foremost, it makes them phalluses. Secondly, it is double or triple or quintuple dipping because they couldn’t have sold as much of their music to begin with if the music didn’t have lyrics to begin with (and double dipping makes you a phallus). Thirdly, for all the reasons of it interfering with folks exploration of music which is bad for the industry and bad for the people, whether or not the industry thinks so. And finally–its LYRICS! for crying out loud, they get less sympathy for this hyperlitiguous junk than even the RIAA does for hassling pirated mp3s.

bigpicture says:

Re: It takes one to know one

“It takes one to know one” was what I always heard from I was small. So when the word “thieving” comes up in relation the music industry what is there left to say.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:9-11

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” “Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.”

So what do you think the future holds for the RIAA, the Recording Companies and all these other greedy bastards who legally stole the the rights to what the ARTISTS created.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh please. Any of you are really implying that people would be more likely to buy music that they can find the lyrics for? What’s the need for lyrics, I mean, surely you can all understand what’s being sung. FAIL.

Now, I post a little snippet of the song by Nightwish, one of my favorites:

Master! A dentist!
Hardcore seven-seater!
Warrior! Despiting!
In me British monster!

Nick (profile) says:

The value of lyrics

One point that hasn’t been mentioned yet, at least not directly, is that song lyrics aren’t worth a whole lot on their own to most people. People don’t want to just read lyrics — they want to listen to the music and hear the artist sing the lyrics.

I would argue that the same is true of lines from a movie. Nobody would want to just “read” a movie without being able to also see and hear it.

The labels also seem to be missing the point of how the lyrics are used. There are two situations in which I (and I surmise most others) use a lyrics site: (1) to find a song by looking up a line that I heard on the radio, or (2) to figure out what the singer is actually saying. One obvious result of the first point is that it may lead to a purchase.

So to those of you who say that these sites are “obviously stealing”, what is it exactly that they’re “stealing”? The lyrics are useless without the music. If your answer is that it helps people download music illegally, then you’ve missed the point and there’s not much left to argue about. By your reasoning, Netflix and Blockbuster are also “obviously stealing” because they let people rent movies that they might rip.

Danny (user link) says:

Funny thing is....

I just tracked down a song and bought the album a few weeks ago because I was able to track it down on a lyric site. And its a good thing I could because when I heard the song I was 1 1/2 hr. from home in a Lowes hardware store where the sound quality was bad to the point that I could only mke out one fragment of the lyrics. Went home, googled them, sampled the song on amazon to confirmed, and ordered it.

So the industry can force those sites offline if they want but they will have a hell of a time with people like me (and seriously doubt I’m the only one that does this) who use those sites to research music to purchase.

They don’t want the tracks online to share.
They don’t want the videos online to view.
They don’t want the lyrics online to research.

Is it me or do they want to force us to blindly buy music without sampling it before hand?

m3mnoch (profile) says:

just don't buy their music

it’s certainly one of the reasons i refuse — absolutely refuse — to buy riaa-backed music.

i say this vehemently: to hell the riaa.

sure, i pay more for a cd because of it. but i would rather hand a $20 bill to the guy (for his burned cd no less) who just played a small concert of his own inspired-by-gershwin music. of which, i promptly took home and ripped all the tracks to mp3.

i’d rather give money to musicians than a useless suit.


LostSailor (profile) says:


Though I haven’t re-read the whole thread, I believe I was the one who “insisted that there haven’t been any lawsuits over lyrics online” here.

However, I didn’t “insist” anything. What I wrote was: “I’ve not heard of any suit for copyright infringement over lyrics online” which is a far cry from “insisting”

Now I have heard of one, so thanks.

But my point in that comment was that you can still find lyrics (and sheet music online) for free, and that point is still true. Your linked article clearly says that there are a number of other sites that obtained the needed licenses.

Jrosen (profile) says:

About those lyric websites

I have not signed up for a SINGLE website for lyrics that CHARGES me anything. IE.. Outside of any banner ads, they don’t make money off of supplying me with the lyrics I want to find. Hence they are not ‘profiting on the backs of songwriters’ or other mealy-mouth bulls**t that the corporate morons like to preach. 99.9% of the lyrics I look for aren’t even American/English songs. I listen to mostly foreign music and I want the lyrics so I can know the song better, what they’re saying, and make sure I’m hearing it right (Not to mention it helps me learn the language).
It’s aggravating when a FREE, that’s to say NO CHARGE. THEY’RE NOT MAKING MONEY OFF OF MY LOOKING AT THE SITE type sites have lyrics for songs I love removed because of some corp nincompoop with a flagpole up his/her a**, when those lyrics might help me continue following and buying the music

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: About those lyric websites

Umm, those banner ads are the “profit” – they are making money off you looking at the site. Without the lyrics, would you have come to the site just to look at the banner ads?

Just because they money doesn’t come directly out of your pocket doesn’t mean it isn’t a commercial enterprise. How much do you pay to read Techdirt? Do you think techdirt operates for nothing?

Wake up and smell the banner ads.

Anonymous Coward says:

While I do rather enjoy reading many of the articles on this site, it does get a bit taxing to read the constant crtiticism of those who choose to assert the rights conferred to them under our federal laws. Maybe doing so is in their best interest. Maybe doing so is not. What would help in order to inform readers about the pros and cons of what such rights holders are doing would be to extend to them the opportunity for an interview, much in the manner as was recently extended to William Patry in connection with his forthcoming book.

There are always two sides to a story. It would be nice for a change to hear the other side. Upon hearing it one may disagree, but at least one would be much better informed about the competing interests.

Beat Smash (user link) says:

Interesting To Know That...

It might interest the readers here of Tech Dirt that Dustin Kensrue (lead singer/songwriter) of the band Thrice actually goes onto LyricWiki and adds and corrects lyrics to his bands songs.

If the site was supposedly so damaging and profiting to songwriters, why would he be going on to the site and adding his own lyrics as well as correcting older lyrics to his other songs?

Nathan Weinberg (profile) says:

Good News

I hate the various music industry groups as much as anyone, but I hope they win this battle. The vast majority of lyrics sites are riddled with some of the worst advertising you’ll ever see, and worse, many of them feature dishonest spyware advertisers and popups. The music industry should wise up, start their own site (with ACCURATE lyrics), and sue the lousy sites out of business. We’d be better off without most of them.

Songwriter says:

The so called “publishers” no hardly publish anything any longer. They just scam songwriters into so called publishing contracts withe the only purpose of monopolizing all the music in the market wish is then stored in their dead music warehouses. It is shameful that these scam publishers turn against their (allegedly) own songwriters by opposing the publication of their lyrics (and music as well).

some guy says:

it may make sense

There seems to be some reason why the labels don’t publish the lyrics themselves. I’ve never heard of, for instance. Maybe they prefer listeners to rehear the song over and over again, to decipher the lyrics themselves, thus generating more plays.

However, this article is right. When I hear a new song and don’t know who it’s by, I look up the lyrics so that I can find the musician and title to hear it again. Lyric sites bring me to the artists that profit from me.

Matthew Pascoe says:

Music Publishers Now Suing Lyrics Sites And Their Execs

I have read the comments and agree with some of them. I do understand the legal rights of the publishers but have they considered the rights of deaf people who are denied the right to enjoy music with the help of lyrics? There are some useful apps which allow us to play the music with the lyrics and are invaluable to us to enjoy the music. In the past we had to print the lyrics (if we are lucky to find them!) and read the lyrics while listening. I say shame on the publishers who can hear the music like the rest of the people who can hear and enjoy the music unhindered! They should try stepping into the shoes of a deaf person and experience the difficulties and barriers that they come across all of the time!

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s metric tonnes of legal mp3’s out there that dont’t come with lyrics. And if you were big time into punk/indie music (still am but the…) 80’s and 90’s album inserts often got broken, “borrowed” by assholes so they’d possess the real album art for their ripped cd, and other things caused by myself.

Nobody is making a cent from putting up a lyrics page, good fans page that exist since the internet does like Bad Religion’s are there and they released 6 albums on Atlantic before going back to their own. Now if you have one of those lyrics sites full of ads and virii thats different… but even for punk music and for metal music who’s goal is to have ALL the lyrics aren’t making a cent. They just provide a useful service for nothing.

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