In a move which hardly comes as a surprise, America’s National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) has upped the pressure on lyric sites. In case you have been on Mars, you are probably aware that lyrics are an inherent part of songs and are therefore covered by a copyright. Until recently, no one had thought to make an issue of this. But all that is changing
For as long as there was no way to make money off lyrics on their own, nobody much bothered about the many sites that offer them for free. But since GraceNote and LyricFind started aggregating lyrics and licensing them, the publishers have decided to do something.
So consequently, many of the most popular lyric sites have started receiving reminders from the NMPA that they are in breach of copyright. The next step is the sending of “cease-and-desist” letters.
In the short term, I’m not sure this will make much difference to people looking for songs. And the sites with licensed lyrics – such as Yahoo! Music and Rhapsody – are still making them available to viewers for free. The debate is largely about the money generated by song lyrics, rather than their actual availability. Currently, the main lyric sites earn money from advertising, none of which goes back into music in any way. By licensing lyrics, the publishers recover some revenue (although no one has yet contacted me to explain what this will mean to me in particular).
However, the NMPA has also started approaching search engines, claiming that they cannot even link to sites with unauthorised lyrics. This is a separate issue and more debatable.