Rap Genius was among 50 top sites sent takedown notices yesterday by the National Music Publishers' Association. Many of the sites, which the NMPA targeted for unlicensed lyrics, have been online for years,. But the trade group says yesterday's action was motivated by the work of Cracker frontman and University of Georgia researcher David Lowery who has published several studies listing top unlicensed lyric sites.
Lowery's studies show top unlicensed lyric sites profiting from ad revenue, but songwriters whose lyrics are available on the sites receive no compensation. "Unlicensed lyric sites are largely ignored as copyright infringers, but in fact these sites generate huge web traffic and involve more money than one might think," said Lowery. "The lyric business is clearly more valuable in the Internet age."
"This is not a campaign against personal blogs, fan sites, or the many websites that provide lyrics legally" said NMPA president and CEO David Israelite. "NMPA is targeting fifty sites that engage in blatant illegal behavior, which significantly impacts songwriters' ability to make a living."
Rap Genius Responds
#1 on Lowery's offender list was Rap Genius, which last year received a $145 million investment from prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Responding indirectly to the NMPA takedown notice, co-founder Ilan Zechory countered that Rap Genius actually adds value to lyrics with their verified annotations. “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," he siad in a statement. "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.”
Braoder Implications For Music Tech Investement
According to comScore, 5.3 million unique US visitor viewed lyrics on Rap Genius. That kind of traffic was bound to attract first Lowery and now the NMPA's attention. And yesterday's takedown notices are exactly the kind of legal quagmire that scares away investors from music and music tech startups.