The Daily Dot reports that the National Music Publishers Association is going after lyrics websites for copyright infringement.
"To that end, the lobbying group has sent Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices to what it deems are the Internet's top 50 "unlicensed" lyrics sites—meaning ones that don't register and share their profits with music companies. (Some of the biggest lyrics sites, including azlyrics.com, are registered already.) If the companies don't respond by either taking down the majority of their content or registering with music labels, the NMPA will respond with "legal action," a representative told the Daily Dot."
While it’s hard to imagine that song lyrics sites are hurting record sales, site owners are selling ads against content they didn’t create and don’t have permission to use.
In many cases, lyrics sites don’t even seem to do the work of transcribing the lyrics they post. The work is crowdsourced by users or scraped off of other sites. (You can tell because the same mistakes and mondegreens show up again and again).
One strange wrinkle is that the NMPA used work by Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery to rank the top 50 worst lyrics site offenders. Lowery chose RapGenius.com as public enemy number one. Rap Genius heavily annotates the songs it features, explaining their slang and providing biographical information about the artists. Rap Genius might be able to defend their work under fair use, since they’re arguably using the lyrics toward a kind of music criticism.
The complaint makes it sound like the NMPA doesn’t want sites like Rap Genius to shut down necessarily, it just wants them to share the profits they make. It’ll be interesting to see if Rap Genius decides to pay the NMPA or fight it out in court. As an onlooker, I’d be curious to see a judge decide whether the kind of annotation Rap Genius does is protected under fair use.