1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Lyric Site Takedown


The US National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) has recently sent takedown notices to fifty websites displaying copyrighted song lyrics. Among the fifty recipients is Rap Genius, a high-flying New York start up that last year received a $15 million investment from Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowtiz.

Rap Genius has quickly grown in popularity due to its interactive display of lyrics. The site does not simply reproduce the copyrighted text, but also enables users to annotate the text and interpret its meaning. When one searches for a song, the website returns that song’s lyrics. Clicking on lines in the lyrics opens a pop-up box with an interpretation of the wording. The site relies on user-generated content through a Wikipedia-like format of contribution, where contributors earn “IQ” points for contributing lyrics and providing interesting interpretations. According to Ilan Zechory, Rap Genius Co-Founder, this interaction between the song and the fans transforms “a static, flat lyric page into an interactive, vibrant art experience created by a community of volunteer scholars”.

The Chief Executive of the NMPA, David Israel, has made it clear that their intention is not to harm fan-based websites. Instead they wish simply to prevent others from commercializing their copyrighted content. This move comes after David Lowery, a University of Georgia researcher, produced a report on the "lyric business" in which he argues that lyrics are becoming more valuable in the Internet age. While Rap Genius does not currently charge a fee or host advertising, the NMPA believes this use of lyrics has the potential to generate a large advertising revenue.  Accordingly, under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, NMPA has asked Rap Genius and the other recipients to obtain licenses for the copyrighted content or remove it from their sites.

While the verbatim copying of lyrics is, as David Israel, pointed out "blatant" infringement, the crowd-sourced annotations make the case more interesting. In particular, could the interpretation of the lyrics create an infringing derivative work? And to what extent is the reproduction and/or interpretation protected under the fair use doctrine?   

A full list of the sites targeted and more information can be found here

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