Music industry seeks a refrain from unlicensed lyrics sites

The group targets 50 allegedly unlicensed lyrics websites over copyright concerns

A music industry group is warning some 50 websites that post song lyrics that they need to be licensed or face the music, possibly in the form of a lawsuit.

The National Music Publishers Association said Monday that it sent take-down notices to what it claims are 50 websites that post lyrics to songs and generate ad revenue but may not be licensed to do so.

Numerous legal battles between the industry and unlicensed music creators have already played out over song recordings and music videos online through YouTube and other sites. Monday's action represents a new industry tactic to fight for artist copyrights.

The allegedly infringing sites were identified based on a complicated algorithm developed by a researcher at the University of Georgia. The top three alleged violators named were rapgenius.com, lyricsmania.com and lyricstranslate.com.

The NMPA, which represents American music publishers and songwriters to protect their copyrights, is not going after every major lyric website, nor smaller fan sites or blogs. Azlyrics.com, one of the most popular lyric websites, was not named. Instead, the group is focusing on certain lyric sites that generate revenue through advertising but do not pay royalties to songwriters and publishers and are not licensed through sites such as lyricfind.com and musixmatch.com.

The goal is not to shut down the infringing sites but for the NMPA and the sites to work together to iron out an agreement, said NMPA spokeswoman Amy Lee. Still, if the sites don't become licensed or otherwise change their ways, lawsuits could come next, Lee said.

The trend of searching for lyrics online has given rise to the issue. Much attention has been given to sites infringing music and movies over the past decade, University of Georgia researcher David Lowery said in a report on the sites. However, "unlicensed lyric sites have been largely overlooked," he said.

The report noted that it could not say for sure that all the allegedly infringing sites were unlicensed.

But if the sites are unlicensed, the NMPA's action could drive many of them out of the industry, said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law.

The sites may try to defend themselves on fair-use grounds, Goldman said, but it's unlikely a fair-use defense will apply to for-profit sites publishing the complete lyrics of many songs.

In general, publishing the complete version of a song's lyrics, without permission from the lyric's copyright owner, is copyright infringement, he said.

The No. 1 site on NMPA's list, Rap Genius, said it has not heard anything from the NMPA. The No. 2 and No. 3 sites, lyricsmania.com and lyricstranslate.com, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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