Song Lyrics Websites in Major Copyright Dispute

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Florida residents of a certain age will remember the days when figuring out the lyrics to a favorite song required sitting down with pencil and paper and playing their copy of the record over and over until they were satisfied that they had the words down correctly. But for years now, figuring out the lyrics has been as easy as typing the song title into Google. Many websites offer the lyrics of just about every popular song ever released, albeit with varying degrees of accuracy.

Questionable accuracy is hardly the only problem with this scenario. The National Music Publishers Association recently issued takedown notices to 50 popular websites that offer song lyrics, alleging that the sites represent blatant infringement of the copyright holders’ exclusive rights.

Holding the copyright on a song means having a number of exclusive rights, including the right to manufacture and sell copies and the right to play the song in public. These exclusive rights meant that those who own the publishing rights on songs can collect royalties when other people use their work. However, according to the publishing association, these websites don’t pay any kind of royalties or licensing fees.

Lyrics websites can be valuable resources for music fans and musicians learning their favorite songs. Some, such as the popular Rap Genius, have the air of scholarly works for serious students of song. Still, it remains to be seen whether any of these sites will be able to successfully defend their services as examples of “fair use” or any other exception to copyright law.

Florida music fans and those who work in the entertainment industry will be closely watching developments in this dispute. A qualified Florida attorney with experience in copyright law can help explain how the law may affect many people in the industry.

Source: Slate, “Is Rap Genius Illegal?” Aisha Harris, Nov. 13, 2013

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