001: One Hundred Resolutions

001: One Hundred Resolutions (Photo credit: JesseMenn)

If only every issue in the realm of copyright protection moved so quickly.

Popular lyrics directory Rap Genius agreed this week to pay royalties to songwriters for the words from songs that bring music fans to its site. With lyrical content essentially providing the site’s reason to exist, you might think that it’s a given for them to compensate the creators behind that content, but Rap Genius argues fair use on non-commercial grounds to skirt such payments.

At least it did.

With the tide turning on songwriter pay from sites that are built on the back of their lyrics, Rap Genius intelligently decided to jump before being pushed. This comes just a few months after David Lowery, a musician and name synonymous with fighting for the intellectual property rights of creators, delivered a report that placed Rap Genius top of the pile when it comes to popular sites reproducing lyrics without compensating songwriters.

Usually such reports are just the opening salvo in a legal war of attrition with offending sites, as they are established and simply dig in to defend a tenuous position rooted in the many gray areas of copyright law (see also: Aereo). In this case, however, it’s heartening to see a site with the popularity of Rap Genius accepting its responsibilities to creators so quickly. It also posts a strong warning to sites further down Lowery’s list: “pay up or be pulled down.”

The position of copyright advocates will be all the stronger when it comes to pursuing these subsequent sites, like ‘Lyrics Mania’ and ‘Lyrics Time,’ because unlike Rap Genius they profit from ads delivered alongside lyrical content. While not as blatant in their infringement of artist copyright as ad-supported illegal download sites, whose revenue can stretch into millions of dollars, ad-supported lyrics sites nonetheless make money from songwriter content without passing anything on to the original creator.

English: of and Cracker at the 2011 Pop Confer...

English: of and Cracker at the 2011 Pop Conference at UCLA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And if you’re wondering why Rap Genius should have to pay if they don’t profit from ads, remember that the platform founders just received $15 million in investment funding from Andreessen Horowitz. They’re far from a non-profit entity and clearly have plans to expand and monetize their popularity in the long term. That they made it to this position by attracting music fans to read published and protected song lyrics is exciting, and also ample reason to compensate songwriters for their work.

For more on this topic, NPR has an interview on songwriter pay for lyrics with David Lowery that’s well worth a listen as you head home for the weekend. We don’t expect every fight for copyright will be resolved this quickly, but it’s sure nice to savor them when they come!


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