Friday, November 15, 2013

Websites That Post Song Lyrics May Have to Face the Music

Lindsay Gellman/Wall Street Journal

The Rap Genius website.
For some lyrics websites, it might be time to face the music.

The National Music Publishers’ Association, a trade association representing music publishers and songwriters, this week issued takedown notices to the 50 largest unlicensed online song-lyric sites, including the well-known site Rap Genius—a free site that allows users to annotate song lyrics, news, literature and other text—claiming they have not properly licensed their content.

“These sites are attempting to profit from the use of the lyrics,” says NMPA president David Israelite. “To not share some of that profit with the people who wrote the lyrics is reprehensible.”

Rap Genius is first on the NMPA’s list of worst offenders due in part to the site’s heavy traffic, as well as its success last year in raising a reported $15 million in funding from venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz—making clear Rap Genius’ intent to profit from the content, Mr. Israelite says.

Rap Genius co-founder Ilan Zechory says the site is not yet profitable, though he adds that it has made the founders “billionaires in smiles.”

A music-industry insider familiar with the matter says it is likely that as early as today, Rap Genius will announce their intention to pursue licenses for the full site’s content and avoid any further conflict.

Yet if the sites fail to comply with the takedown notices in “expeditious fashion,” Mr. Israelite says they might be in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a federal regulation passed in 1998 that gives copyright-holders the legal tools to protect their copyrights online. NMPA’s takedown notices represent the first step in a process that could lead to lawsuits against the websites, Mr. Israelite says.

“Our hope is not to have to litigate,” he says. “Our hope is for these sites just to license [the content] and become business partners.”

Mr. Zechory says Rap Genius recently signed a licensing deal with Sony Corp.’s Sony/ATV Music Publishing, allowing the site to legally post Sony/ATV content. Martin Bandier, Sony/ATV chief executive, confirmed the deal in a statement.

And there might be more licensing deals in the works, Mr. Zechory says: “We’re talking to all the major publishers.”

Meanwhile, some hip-hop stars like Nas are jumping to the site’s defense. “Organizations such as the NMPA should understand and embrace the ever-evolving mediums in which music is consumed,” the rapper wrote in a statement. “The No. 1 issue that the music industry has always had is its lack of innovation and the inability to pivot along with our audience.”

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