Music Publishers Take Action Against Lyrics Sites

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The National Music Publishers' Association took aim at lyrics websites such as RapGenius this week, serving takedown notices for unlicensed lyrics sites in what they claim is "an unprecedented anti-piracy effort." The organization compiled a list of the Top 50 unlicensed sites, and one interesting aspect of this story, however, is that sitting at the top of the list is Rap Genius.

The main feature of Rap Genius is not that it simply serves up song lyrics, but that it allows users to annotate lyrics in order to explain them or provide interpretation or context. The site branded itself with the lofty comparison of "Internet Talmud" when it raised a large round of venture capital funding last fall, and also said that it wished to branch out beyond song lyrics (see, for example, the beginning of Teju Cole's Open City annotated by the author, or for some irony, an annotated version of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

One of the site's founders, Ilan Zechory, told The New York Times that the site constituted fair use, telling them:

“The lyrics sites the N.M.P.A. refers to simply display song lyrics, while Rap Genius has crowdsourced annotations that give context to all the lyrics line by line, and tens of thousands of verified annotations directly from writers and performers. These layers of context and meaning transform a static, flat lyric page into an interactive, vibrant art experience created by a community of volunteer scholars.”

Whether or not that argument holds up remains to be scene, but the NMPA did clarify that they were only going after sites that they believe blatantly republish lyrics for commercial gain and not personal blogs or fan websites.

[Pictured: Kanye West and JAY Z, rap geniuses—not affiliated with the website]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.