Look Up All the Lyrics You Can Now, It Might Soon Be Illegal


The music industry has launched a new attack in their swashbuckling crusade against the evils of piracy. In their quest to leave no dubloon uncounted, the National Music Publishers' Association, (NMPA) has broadsided the slew of unlicensed lyric sites on the web. Rap Genius, a popular site where music fans can annotate lyrics and explain their meaning, has received the Black Spot so to speak.

Pirate references aside, this new attempt to protect the interest of music publishers seeks to wipe out an often overlooked form of so-called piracy. University of Georgia's researcher David Lowery tipped off the NMPA to the prominence of these potentially illegal sites with a report in October that listed the top 50 lyrics sites suspected of being unlicensed. The NMPA wasted little time in posting take-down notices for these sites.

Coming in at the top of the list is a popular start-up called Rap Genius. The New York company which garnered a $15 million investment last year now faces extinction in the face of the NMPA action. Co-founder Ilan Zechory argues that Rap Genius "is so much more than a lyrics site." While other sites merely print the lyrics, Rap Genius has line-by-line annotations explaining the lyrics with "tens of thousands of verified annotations directly from writers and performers." Zechory looks forward to communicating with the NMPA and believes that the site will be protected as fair use.

While the minds at Rap Genius claim to be all about the fans, those at the NMPA say they are not targeting fan based sites. NMPA President and CEO David Israelite made it clear that their action "is not a campaign against personal blogs, fan sites, or the many websites that provide lyrics legally," but a warranted attack on those who have monetized the illegal publishing of lyrics. The traffic and potential profit on lyric sites has just become too large to ignore.

Reports from the NMPA claim that Google fields at least five millions searches for "lyrics" each day, and 50% of all online lyrics are viewed on illegal sites. The group has been successful in taking down lyric sites before and notably won a $6.6 million judgment in a similar case last year. Although it is uncertain how much money is on the line, Israelite sees the take-down notices as a fair warning before further legal action.

It is uncertain whether front-runners like Rap Genius will give way to these new demands, but this is certain to be an interesting battle worth following. Take a look at the list yourself and see how much music you sing along to illegally.