Cracker Frontman Spearheads Takedown of Lyric Sites

With the National Music Publishers Association, David Lowery targets 50 sites he says publish illegally

David Lowery performs in Atlanta, Georgia.
Chris McKay/WireImage
David Lowery performs in Atlanta.
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The National Music Publishers Association issued takedown notices to 50 unlicensed lyric sites yesterday, according to a press release. Those sites were targeted by Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery, who is also a researcher at the University of Georgia. As part of his research, he compiled the "Undesirable Lyric Website List," which detailed 50 sites that have posted lyrics without paying their songwriters. Lowery ranked them using an index he developed. The top three offenders on the list (which can be viewed as a PDF) are Rap Genius, Lyrics Mania and Lyrics Translate. The NMPA intends to take action against any sites that do not comply by entering into licensing agreements or removing the infringing content.

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The NMPA claims that Google users search the word "lyrics" over five million times every day, and that that only 50 percent of lyric sites are licensed. President and CEO David Israelite says his organization does not intend to go after "personal blogs, fan sites, or the many websites that provide lyrics legally," but instead is focusing on illegal sites that profit from advertising and affect songwriters' livelihoods. Previously, the NMPA litigated against the sites LiveUniverse and LyricWiki and received judgments of over $7 million for its members.

"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," Lowery said in a statement. "The lyric business is clearly more valuable in the Internet age."

One of the founders of Rap Genius – a site that received a $15 million investment last year and that, according to the New York Times, welcomed 5.3 million unique visitors in October – discussed the announcement with the newspaper yesterday. Since Rap Genius includes user-generated explanations of song lyrics, cofounder Ilan Zechory argued his site was different. "Rap Genius has crowd-sourced annotations that give context to all the lyrics line by line, and tens of thousands of verified annotations directly from writers and performers," Zechory told the Times. "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."

Zechory did not, however, address whether his company licenses the song lyrics it displays. Instead, he said he "can't wait to have a conversation with [the NMPA] about how all writers can participate in and benefit from the Rap Genius knowledge project."

Historically, the NMPA sponsored litigation against Napster on behalf of songwriters in 2001. Five years later, it teamed with the Music Publishers Association to target websites that published unlicensed guitar tablature online. The NMPA played a significant role in how YouTube pays songwriters when it reached an agreement with the streaming site in 2007. And in 2010, it teamed with the RIAA in a lawsuit against the P2P site Limewire, which was shut down that year.

"These lyric sites have ignored the law and profited off the songwriters' creative works," Israelite says, "and NMPA will not allow this to continue."