And now: the war on lyrics

And just when you thought it was safe to listen to music, war breaks out again. This time, lyrics are at the root of the issue. Song lyrics are frequently amongst the top ten search terms on the web – no small feat. As a lyricist, I’m flattered by your attention. But the US publishing
giant Warner/Chappell is not. They have started sending “cease and desist” letters to developers of applications that find lyrics on the web for you. PearLyrics is a Mac OS application that locates the lyrics to tracks on your iPod. Citing copyright infringement, Warner/Chappell has made them stop distribution. “Personally I don’t see where
pearLyrics should infringe any copyrights handled by them,” says developer Walter Ritter on his website. “After all, pearLyrics only searches and accesses publicly available websites, displays, and, at the users wish, caches its content. Something that can easily be done with any combination of search engine and web browser too.”

If people are looking for lyrics, they have presumably acquired the music already. So they are “consumers”, perhaps even “customers” if they bought the music. So what’s wrong with them reading the lyrics? It sure beats them making them up on their own (see the post on misheard lyrics).

For me, this highlights another issue, the continued disregard for lyrics by the music business. Read more for an update

If lyrics have to be protected to this degree, they must surely be worth something in the eyes of the industry? But is that the case? When’s the last time you heard of a lyrics award being given by a record company? When gold and platinum records are being dished out, how often does the songwiter – the guy that created the music and/or words – get invited unless he or she is the performer? Every successful songwriter has tales of being
practically locked out of awards ceremonies.

Music publishers claim that lyric sites harm sales of music books. But what proportion of their catalogue is published as sheet music books? If the figure is even 3% I’d be surprised. And if the lyrics are so important, why do the record companies or publishers not make them available themselves? At a time when everyone is looking for ways to increase the perceived value of music, this would seem like a good place to start.

Instead of that, we have large corporations scaring little developers. And music fans are being kept away from something they want without an alternative being made available. Does this not sound familiar?

Visit pearLyrics here.

UPDATE DEC 16: Google has just announced that it is making it easier for users to find music items on the web through an improved search function. Warner/Chappell has not yet commented.

UPDATE DEC 18: Warner/Chappell has publicly apologised to
PearLyrics calling their action “inappropriate”. Spoken like a man! The priority is now to enable licensed sites to promote accurate lyrics, something the Accidental Lyricist can sympathise with. Read the joint PearWorks/Warner/Chappell statement.

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