When Is A Lyric Site More Than A Lyric Site?

from the used-for-commentary dept

Honestly, if there’s anything more stupid than the music industry and song-writers going after lyrics sites, I can’t imagine what that thing might be. We’ve talked in the past about how short-sighted it is for the profiteers of interest in songs targeting websites that do little beyond promoting interest in those same songs. Even the most obviously single-purpose lyric site that does nothing but post song lyrics is likely innocuous at worst and beneficial to all involved at best. Yet they’re constant targets. Blech.

But sometimes this goes beyond blinder-vision and moves into a complete mis-targeting. That seems to be the case with the inclusion of RapGenius.com on the National Music Publisher’s Association hitlist of sites from their press conference on Monday. The NMPA insisted all sites immediately pull lyrics off the site. RapGenius, for those of you not in the know, is much more than a lyrics site. But, according to one guy that I think I’ve heard of before:

David Lowery, a veteran of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker who has tracked the sites in his research for the University of Georgia, says they are big business.

“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,” he said. “The lyric business is clearly more valuable in the Internet age.”

What?!? First, it’s hard to square these sites being ignored with their constantly being targeted and sued. Second, to understand what a site like RapGenius is and does, you actually have to look at the site. A cursory glance shows that the entire point of the site is to foster a conversation and commentary around lyrics (and more), their meaning, and their interpretations. This is done through user annotations, fostering a back and forth that often times includes the songwriters themselves. As RapGenius founder Ilan Zechory notes:

“Rap Genius is so much more than a lyrics site! The lyrics sites the NMPA refers to simply display song lyrics, while Rap Genius has crowdsourced annotations that give context to all the lyrics line by line, and tens of thousands of verified annotations directly from writers and performers. These layers of context and meaning transform a static, flat lyric page into an interactive, vibrant art experience created by a community of volunteer scholars. Furthermore, music is only a small part of what we do. Rap Genius is an interactive encyclopedia for annotation of all texts — anyone can upload and annotate texts relating to music, news, literature, religion, science, their personal lives, or anything else they want,” he concluded.

So, the questions are pretty obvious. First, why is the NMPA going after a site that is clothed in several layers of Fair Use armor? And second, why is an association that is supposed to protect the rights of all their songwriting members going after a site that many of them appear to enjoy using. Finally, what the hell kind of good is supposed to come of any of this? I’m not sure what the end-game is supposed to be for the NMPA, but this looks like a massive swing-and-a-miss to me. Oh, and it should be noted that people appear to have posted Techdirt articles to RapGenius as well, and everyone at Techdirt thinks that’s great. We’d actually be really pissed off if some misguided attempt to squeeze money out of the site meant that our own content was held back and less widely distributed.

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Companies: nmpa, rapgenius

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Comments on “When Is A Lyric Site More Than A Lyric Site?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I just have no idea how going after lyrics sites is at all justified in an age where you can legally purchase an album digitally and thus never get the liner notes that contain the lyrics.

The whole point of music is, well, the music, so it’s a pretty stupid argument to say that lyrics sites detract from the commercial work in any way, shape or form.

Plus, the number of times I’ve heard a song on the radio, looked up the lyrics online because I’m a huge goofball that likes singing in the car, and gone on to buy the song (or even full album) based on how much I like the song…well, it happens really often.

The music industry has its head so far up its own ass it’s astounding.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Good point. How am I supposed to know the lyrics w/a digital copy, legal or not?

Hell, I’ve got legally purchased CDs whereon the ‘artist’ has chosen to not share what words they’re singing. Maybe they are embarrassed of them?

Lyric sites only drive interest, not infringement. What a stupid way to go through life: someone’s daring to read my words without paying! People know my words! Oh no!

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I just have no idea how going after lyrics sites is at all justified in an age where you can legally purchase an album digitally and thus never get the liner notes that contain the lyrics.

Because it reflects the mindset of many people connected with the music and film industry at the moment, fostered by years of propaganda and lobbying. It seems to have three main aspects:

* If I came up with something (no matter if it was inspired by anything else) I should have complete control over it;

* No one should be able to make any money from my stuff without my permission;

* If someone does make money from my stuff without my permission, even if they are willing to pay me some of the proceeds and are doing a positive service, they must be stopped and punished.

I can see why people hold these views and understand where they are coming from, but they are major stumbling-blocks in reform of copyright law and technological progress. I think it comes from modern copyright being based on ownership and permission, rather than exploitation with reasonable remuneration.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There are plugins you can get for most programs that do exactly this. Of course, they often just search the “pirate” lyric sites for the details since the labels haven’t bothered to make them officially available in many cases. Not to mention that lyrics are available for some songs, but they’re often only available as extras when you buy an album (as opposed to a single) in iTunes or through specific apps on Spotify, but only when using their desktop client, etc.

In other words, yet another example of the music industry trying to rip off their customers then turning to lawyers instead of actually giving their customers what they want.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

holy guacamole! talk about stunningly obvious, what an idiot i feel like: OF COURSE that is the way it should be done, given the digital format of the music itself, simply add on text/RTF/whatever files of the lyrics…

the damn lyric/text files for a whole album would be -what- a couple K ? ? ? now that i’m thinking about your great idea (which a poster below says has been implemented in -you know- NON OFFICIAL ways), it pisses me off EVEN MORE at the useless MAFIAA dons…

that was what was lost with going from albums to CDs (and even more so with MP3’s), the loss of cover art, as well as the liner notes, and -many times- even the damn lyrics…
as far as i can tell, even when you buy a physical CD these days, they don’t generally have the lyrics…

it’s almost as if the lyrics are meaningless sounds to accompany the music…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You don’t need a separate text file. You can embed lyrics – or any text for that matter along with the art work – directly inside the mp3 file itself. Look at the info in iTunes and you’ll see a tab marked “Lyrics” where you can put in whatever text you like.

I’m surprised more bands don’t use this for fabulous Easter eggs, or maybe they do and I haven’t noticed.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Plus, the number of times I’ve heard a song on the radio, looked up the lyrics online because I’m a huge goofball that likes singing in the car, and gone on to buy the song (or even full album) based on how much I like the song..”

This reminds me of a ridiculous episode. A couple of years ago I had an argument here about this subject with someone (who I think claimed to be a songwriter or at least a musician, but I don’t recall exactly). He literally tried arguing that the only acceptable way to learn the lyrics to a song was to go to a music store and buy the sheet music. That the only acceptable way to find a song from some half-remembered lyrics was to ask an employee of such a store.

He rejected all attempts to understand reality – that most such needs are fleeting and not worth the effort for most people; that even if they weren’t a huge number of people don’t live anywhere near such a store; that even if they did, sheet music costs many times more than the recording and so most people won’t buy it; that many people go on to buy music they literally wouldn’t be able to find without the desired information and most of these are impulse buys that lose momentum in minutes.

That’s what we’re dealing with – people who are so protective of what they think the industry should be, they’re actually pushing away methods by which people can discover, enjoy and even buy their music. But of course, you won’t be able to show those people that “piracy” isn’t the reason for their failures.

V says:

Re: Re: Re:

“…the only acceptable way to find a song from some half-remembered lyrics was to ask an employee of such a store.”

If someone actually said that, then they have obviously never worked in such a store. Having worked in a similar environment (bookstore) this is ludicrous. As if every employee at every store is supposed to have encyclopedic knowledge of every song ever heard by anyone coming in. Plus, even if they did I can’t tell you the number of times customers would come in looking for “Something about birds. They talked about on Good Morning America a few weeks ago, I think. What do you mean that’s not enough info to find it?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The best part of this is that absolute shitloads of songs that get played eighty times a day on the radio or wherever literally do not have publicly available sheet music. I mean, leaving aside the rest of the craziness of that viewpoint (and there’s a lot of craziness there), even their ridiculous ideal way for people to access lyrics is just fundamentally flawed.

Robert (profile) says:

Lowery is right though

Those sites steal billions of dollars away from publisher lyric sites!

See: http://thetrichordist.com/2012/04/15/meet-the-new-boss-worse-than-the-old-boss-full-post/

Ha ha!

On a serious note, it’s no different then the attack on the tab sites for guitar. They have incredibly annoying ads. Maybe if the publishers had official tabs (not combo books of “best guesses” as some are, or full album books which some are accurate, some are again best guesses) available in PDF format for a reasonable price, like $1, people would buy them instead of $20 – $40 for a full book.

Lyrics sites are full of annoying ads as well. But when was there a published book full of official song lyrics? Usually those are bundled with sheet music and sold at a higher price. If one only wanted to remember the 2nd verse of a song, or needed a refresher, the lyric sites are helpful.

They don’t drive piracy.

What’s next, liner notes? Sue wikipedia because they post who produced the album and which tracks are listed, and maybe even some production notes?

Fuck yeah, let’s lock everything up because that so helps culture!

And why am I not surprised Lowery is ranting about this?

Fuck, while we’re at it, let’s kill the radio, people *might* turn the station during a commercial and artists (labels) won’t get paid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sure can’t understand why the music industry is having so much troubles making money. Surely can’t all be folks like me that have had enough of the sue’em all idiocy. Simply I refuse to support with my money those types of actions. I will continue to refuse to support them in the years ahead, just like the years that have past since they started this sort of shooting their feet. By now you would think they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

Richard (profile) says:

With lyric sites - vs without

With lyric sites

Catch a song I like the sound of on the radio station playing in the sports centre in the morning – maybe only hear an odd bit of lyric.

Type said lyric into Google – and find out what the song was – who has performed it and who wrote it. Now I’m in the position where there is a chance I might pay some money (maybe just via an ad on a Youtube video – but just maybe go to a concert and pay quite a bit)

Without Lyric sites

Catch a song I like the sound of on the radio station playing in the sports centre in the morning – maybe only hear an odd bit of lyric.

Type said lyric into Google – result – zilch.
Never find out who it was, what the song was or anything.

How that situation would be better for anybody just beats me.

Lowery and his ilk manage to combine the worse execesses of jealously, control freakery, greed and a “dog in a manger” attitude all rolled into one appalling mess.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: With lyric sites - vs without

“How that situation would be better for anybody just beats me.”

The only way it makes sense is with corporate controlled radio. With that, you don’t get bombarded with lots of songs from lots of different sources, you get the same 20 or 30 songs that have been pre-approved for promotion by the major labels. There’s only a small group of artists and songs it could possibly be, and since you’ll get to hear the song again soon if you’re not sure what it is, such services are unnecessary. The outlet you choose is irrelevant, since ClearChannel makes sure they all play the same songs all the time.

Where the labels start to have problems is when actual choice is introduced.

out_of_the_blue says:

NMPA needs to inform people about Noscript, Adblock, and hosts files!

To take advertising income away from not only lyrics sites but links sites: no advertisements seen = no such sites except by the really dedicated.

That fits nicely with all my views. Advertising is among the lowest of the grifters, promotes insane consumerism besides mind-sapping entertainments.

Of course the above steps would ruin Google’s “business model” too, so this entirely practicable solution that anyone can do in a matter of minutes won’t be favored by those who, like Techdirt, gain income from advertising. But then Techdirt isn’t about solutions, ’cause the very existence of problems is all that draws eyeballs here.

Worse than being censored on the net is being advertised. You can escape censorship with your ideas intact; advertising uses lures and tricks to re-shape your very mind.


sophisticatedjanedoe (profile) says:

beyond promoting interest in those same songs.

There is a dimension (almost off-topic) that only non-native speakers would understand. In late 70s rock music hit me upon the head (in a good sense): it was something unspokenly magic. With the words I did not understand, but it did not matter. When I finally started understanding the lyrics… well… not all, but a sizable portion was an utter disappointment.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

no, that sentiment is not limited to non-native speakers listening to english lyrics…

i regularly rant about how you can’t hear the lyrics half the time UNLESS you go to relatively extreme lengths and play it back a hundred times to pick out the unintelligible words…

for me, it is an effort not worth undertaking to parse and translate and squint my ears (yes, i said that) to TRY to pick out words/lines in pop songs…
to what end ? “i love you baby, do you love me, ooo oooo, oooo ooo”
okay, i played a song back ten times to pick out those life-changing lyrics ? ? ? i don’t think so…

for the most part, it is ‘the sound’ that catches my attention, the lyrics are almost meaningless these days…

i know that is unfair to the songsmiths who craft clever, smart, entertaining, insightful lyrics, but i’m just not going to waste my time figuring lyrics for 100 songs for the sake of the one which is ‘good’…

its junk food for the ears…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The companies are treating popularity as an indicator of lost sales. Most people will not actually pay for lyrics, they are just interested in seeing the words for a song. If the put lyrics up for sale at their usual mark-up, the site would flop, but people will suffer adverts to look at or get the lyrics for personal reference. Popularity is not a measure of value.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

As is often the way, the “industry” (bear in mind this has nothing to do with record companies – it’s music publishers, who have a tendency towards even less subtlety) has attempted to make a valid point about unauthorised exploitation of their copyrights, but couched it in a manner that gives the impression they just want to sue everyone out of existence.

I have no idea how much effort has been made to license lyric sites, but the point is that these sites have built a viable business (otherwise they wouldn’t exist in the first place) off the back of other people’s work (the songwriters, represented by the publishers). I’m sure it’s not anyone’s intention to charge users of these sites to look at song lyrics – the lyricists just want a realistic share of the revenue being generated from their work. Is that so unreasonable?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s unreasonable when your primary response is to sue the sites out of existence and claim its users are stealing. You don’t get to make wild accusations without consequence.

Hell, put a system in place such that lyricists actually get the money. Under the current one it’s obvious they’re not getting the money, and shutting down the lyric sites won’t actually put money in their pockets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Do you know that that is the primary response? Has anyone asked if the publishers have attempted to license these sites? Is anyone claiming that users of the sites are stealing?

Unlicensed lyric sites are making a business out of someone else’s work, and they ought to be paying on some of the money they’re making from advertising.

Like Spotify or Youtube plays, it’s not going to be much money per view, but that’s not the point. The point is that if anyone is free to make use of lyrics for nothing, why would anyone ever bother to obtain a license to post lyrics? By (attempting to) close down infringing sites, others are encouraged to do things properly. In the end, consumers don’t pay anything directly, but the songwriters get paid. It’s like comparing Spotify with The Pirate Bay – there isn’t much money per stream, but it’s a compromise that most are happy with when compared to outright theft.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Ah, conflating Pirate Bay with theft. That’s a sure way to win your argument.

Just like by attempting to sue grandmothers, others are encouraged to do things properly. Yet year after year, the RIAA claims that piracy is increasing, not decreasing, and they still manage to pay Mitch Bainwol and Cary Sherman increasing bonuses.

Colour me not convinced.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I was asking for clarification of the AC’s argument. Your rhetorical question doesn’t provide any clarity.

But I’ll answer your question: it entirely depends. I can think of many situations where I’d be happy to let some people use my stuff for free when others are willing to pay for it. In fact, I do this routinely. It’s often very good business.

But for lyrics in particular, I don’t think I’d have a big problem with the situation, no. As the author of lyrics, my income would not come from people reading them. It would come from performers performing them. Having the lyrics published on sites wouldn’t harm my business, and would very likely help it.

cosmicwonderful (profile) says:

Here’s my question: why the f*#$ doesn’t every single band post the lyrics to every single one of their songs on their own band website?

I’ve never understood this. Absolutely nobody likes going to lyrics websites. They’re spammy and ugly and often inaccurate. I doubt the people who create them even like them. But people go to them because we want to know what the real lyrics are and we have no other choice.

So WTF, musicians? If I can go to your (Flash-built, designed for 2002) website for tour dates, merch, discography, etc., why can’t you help me sing along to your songs that I already like?

You want to put lyrics sites out of business? Become the definitive place to go to find your lyrics. Boom. I’d never go to another lyrics site again.

(I would still go to rapgenius though.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Many bands do post their lyrics on their websites, but it is a legal nightmare to read the contracts and understand who has what rights when and where. An army of different people have had their hands on the stuff while it was made and many of the producers, mixers, lyricists, music writers, the band, the cover animators, music video writers,the lawyers etc. want in too…
As long as everyone gets a good cut, they will shut up about contractual inconsistencies, but as soon as someone is said to game the system without paying…
Music industry has been too complex for their own good. Now the copyright abomination they setup has started cracking them up from the inside.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Lol. There’s a lot of those here:


Although, on the Clash one, I always thought it was a wedding song and they were “rocking the cash bar” myself.

I hadn’t heard the one about Elton’s “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”. I about fell out of my chair laughing at that.

Anonymous Coward says:


My understanding is that the publishers are going after unlicensed lyrics sites. Is that incorrect?

As far as I know, there are perfectly legitimate lyrics sites that obtain the proper licenses, and they are not a part of this crack down. AZLyrics.com springs to mind.

The fact is, lyricists put a lot of work into their songs. I don’t see why their contributions should be considered irrelevant when it comes to copyright. Is a screenwriter’s contribution to a film negligible?

Although, going after RapGenius.com is a little ridiculous, since it is so popular. Did the labels approach them and offer a chance to legally license the lyrics?

It’s complicated area. I know people complain about lyrics missing from CD booklets, but many people don’t quite grok that the lyrics are held under a different copyright, often owned by someone who is not under contract to said label; the labels don’t always have explicit permission to reprint them. Anyone who reads liner notes is probably familiar with the phrase “Lyrics reprinted with the permission of…”

Seems like people might be jumping the gun here. I mean, we should encourage the people who are behaving legally, right? That means the people breaking the law have to be put in their place, or the whole system breaks down.

RD says:

Re: Re:

“It’s complicated area. I know people complain about lyrics missing from CD booklets, but many people don’t quite grok that the lyrics are held under a different copyright, often owned by someone who is not under contract to said label;”

Not really. Let me uncomplicate it for you right now:

The consumer


who has the copyright to what parts of what songs. They just want to know what the fucking words are that are being sung to a song they LIKE AND ENJOY, and would probably buy if they could actually figure out the song from a briefly-heard lyric. But noooOOOoooo…super-control-freak-delta has to step in and SQUASH mr. consumer like a BUG for daring to not be knowledgable about the state of copyright for all songs in creation.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“I don’t see why their contributions should be considered irrelevant when it comes to copyright.”

Nobody at all has claimed this.

“I mean, we should encourage the people who are behaving legally, right? That means the people breaking the law have to be put in their place, or the whole system breaks down.”

If you were talking about a set of laws that were respected by most people and understood to provide a worthwhile benefit to society, you’d have a point. But we’re talking about copyright, and that is no longer the case for modern copyright laws. The system is broken.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Where are these legally licensed lyrics sites?

AZLyrics doesn’t look legit in any way. Horrible interface. User submissions. Registered in Panama. DMCA info on its site. Embedded music videos. And “All lyrics provided for educational purposes only.” – a weak claim of fair use.

None of this points to a site filled with licensed material.

Unfortunately, NOBODY could afford to pay the royalties for the massive database of song lyrics that a lyric site would need to be useful. Every songwriter in the last 100 years would want a piece of that pie.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

many people don’t quite grok that the lyrics are held under a different copyright, often owned by someone who is not under contract to said label; the labels don’t always have explicit permission to reprint them.

And it’s this type of nonsense that helps to make copyright issues impossible to untangle, weakens copyright in general, and harmful to art.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Regular music buyer

As someone that used to sell music before the internet, more artists than you can imagine sell songs simply because people just remember a few words of the song. Many sales were lost when the staff couldn’t figure out which song went “I love you baby.”

Even if I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, I’d ask them to sing it to me anyway just for my entertainment.

Alan (profile) says:

I buy lots of CDs — 700 to 800 at last count — and go to lots of live music events (usually three or four a month. Unfortunately, I am now hard of hearing and have difficulty making out the words. I depend on lyrics sites to enable me to fully enjoy the music I have purchased, and this often leads to me buying even more.

Does the music industry really want to discourage customers like me?

Davd says:

Here's the deal.

People wonder why the record labels don’t make money off the lyrics themselves if they consider them valuable.

What the record labels consider valuable is throughput. The ideal customer is one who hears every song only once per offering. If you learn the lyrics to a song, you are going to spend extraordinarily much time with that one song, going with the same recording for a long time or, God forbid, even playing it yourself.

That’s nothing the record labels want. The reason for crushing the lyrics market is similar to record labels using an exclusive deal with established artists for making them disappear from the landscape, making room for new fly-by-nights.

“Planned obsolescence” is not only a revenue strategy in engineering, it’s the same in music.

Lyrics are worse than full scores: full scores are likely to be played in professional contexts, again delivering royalties.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

?The lyric business is clearly more valuable in the Internet age.?

20 years and you just figured this out.
You insipid has-been.

Without copyright laws as they currently stand, perhaps your beloved labels would have gotten off of their asses sooner to meet this consumer demand.

See this is the part that a majority of the big label promoting types miss in the equation.

You seem to think that copyright law merely exists to extract cash from the ether and place it into your label account where someday they might dain to send you a royalty check… if they can find you, if they don’t change the records to hide income and sit on it.

You business is to provide entertainment to be consumed by customers, this is the part you all seem to have forgotten.

You abuse consumers with price fixing, DRM, and killing off any innovation that MIGHT injure you in imaginary ways.
In return we get what?

Its not a fair trade.

Go stomp your feet and prove us wrong. Withdraw all of your wondrous creations from the market never to return. I know I’ll be happier not having to listen to your vapid mewling any longer.

Make room for the future old man, your kind has held it back long enough.

Red Monkey (profile) says:

ADA should require lyric sites

Lyric sites actually perform a useful service for people who don’t have really sharp hearing.They enable them to fully enjoy the music in a way that is on par with those that are not similarly disabled. Not everyone has the cognitive power to extract the words of a fast moving rap in real time.

Perhaps proprietors of lyric sites should spin their offerings this way. It would be a PR disaster for a music publisher to try to shut down a site that is only purporting to provide services to the hearing-impaired community.

Anonymous Coward says:

the really sad thing about this and all the efforts that the entertainment industries make to get sites shut is that, win or lose, the industries never put up a site themselves to replace what they dont like or what is deemed in court as infringing. what is the point of just getting something closed or blocked if there is no official, legal alternative put up in it’s place? these industries are not interested in doing anything except maintaining control! they dont want to do anything themselves that customers want and are only interested in taking away anything that may interfere with their control! and the really annoying thing is that politicians and courts do everything they possibly can to help these industries achieve that end! how ridiculous is it to keep denying the customers what they want? any business worth it’s salt would know that and do what is asked for. this is surely proof positive that the industries care about nothing else than keeping control, screwing artists (as nothing won in court ever goes to those they are supposed to be ‘looking after and fighting for’) and screwing customers as hard as possible!

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