August 17, 2007 4:15 AM PDT

Lyrics sites out of tune with copyrights

How does that song go? We've all used the Internet to search for the lyrics to songs whose tune we know but whose words we just can't muster.

Often the Web sites we end up on have misspellings or incomplete and inaccurate lyrics, not to mention annoying pop-up and flashing ads. But there's another problem with the sites--many of them are violating copyright by republishing the lyrics without permission. And they are making money from the Google text ads that appear on the site.

That's money that could be going into the pockets of people like Alexander Perls Rousmaniere, a Los Angeles-based artist who writes and produces dance club tracks, including some pop hits.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, Google--the company that's been sued for $1 billion by Viacom because of its YouTube video unit and has been the target of increasingly testy attacks from all sorts of publishers--finds itself in the center of yet another copyright storm. This time, it's the people who write music--some of them well-known and some of them obscure--complaining that the search giant is helping others step on their copyrights.

"Google is selling advertising on all the big copyright-infringing lyric Web sites," Rousmaniere said. "It may seem like small potatoes, but lyrics are a huge search term on the Internet--these sites (and Google) are probably pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly, all on the back of copyrighted material."

Rousmaniere has complained to Google, repeatedly, with limited success--Google has removed some ads on sites publishing his lyrics but then the ads go back up, he said. Google told him it is his responsibility as copyright holder to police the infringing sites and file additional complaints when the old lyrics or new lyrics of his appear without his permission, he said.

"It would literally be two to three hours a day for the rest of my life" monitoring the Web for copyright violations, Rousmaniere said. Many of the Internet service providers for the sites are located outside the U.S., making it difficult for him to ask them to shut the sites down, he added.

A Google spokesman said he could not comment on any particular copyright holder's complaint.

"We take copyrights very seriously. In accordance with our policy, we disable ads on websites in our content network when we are made aware that they appear next to copyrighted content," the company said in a statement. "Copyright holders who find their copyrighted material appearing next to Google ads can find more information about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down requests on our AdSense Web site. Hundreds of thousands of Web site publishers responsibly abide by our policies and we're committed to preventing those who don't from using our program."

Focusing on sites that monetize
Rousmaniere isn't the only copyright owner concerned about the lyric sites. Lawyers representing National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) have met with Google to discuss the matter, said Jacqueline Charlesworth, senior vice president and general counsel. The NMPA is the leading trade association representing U.S. music publishers, with more than 700 members.

"It's a significant concern. We do send DMCA notices to sites that are commercially oriented, that are trying to profit and aren't paying the people who wrote the songs," Charlesworth said. "We did reach out to Google before we started the program and they said they would cooperate."

The NMPA began sending warning letters to infringing lyric Web sites a few weeks ago and at least one site has taken down the copyrighted lyrics, she said.

"Our next step will be to send DMCA notices to the ISPs who host the site or the search engine that shows sites up in results," she added. "We're hopeful that it will be effective. The goal and the focus here is really the sites that are trying to monetize the lyrics."

Rogue lyrics Web sites have been on the Internet for years--in part because until recently there wasn't a readily available way for consumers to get lyrics from copyright holders.

"We wanted to make sure there was a legitimate alternative available and now that there is, we think it's appropriate to have the lyrics taken down off the other sites," Charlesworth said. "There is a market for these lyrics. There is consumer demand and the lyrics enhance a digital service. It's a very significant potential market."

In April, Yahoo and Gracenote launched an online lyrics service that has received the rights from music publishers, like Universal Music Publishing Group and Sony/ATV Music Publishing, to republish copyrighted lyrics.

At the time the deal was announced, Gracenote Chief Executive Craig Palmer told Reuters that licensed lyrics services could add as much as $100 million a year to the $4 billion the music publishing industry posts in revenues annually.

But a self-described "small fish" like Rousmaniere may not benefit from a service like that, which focuses on large publishing companies. For him, the courts could be an answer, although convincing a judge that Google is liable for copyright infringements of its AdSense publisher partners would be tough, said Denise Howell, an intellectual property lawyer and blogger.

"If it could be demonstrated that the terms (of service for AdSense) are not being enforced (or are not being enforced with sufficient vigor), a plaintiff could try to build a case portraying the terms as mere window dressing, and Google as an entity with a business model that condones or even encourages its users' infringement," Howell said.

However, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court decision in Google's favor in May (PDF) is an indication of the "uphill battle" someone suing Google would face, she said.

In that case, Perfect 10, an adult-oriented Web site, accused Google of contributory copyright infringement by profiting off revenue-sharing through Google ads on Web sites that display its images without permission. The court disagreed with that point, although it said thumbnails Google's image search displayed of Perfect 10's photos likely infringe on the copyrights.

How thumbnails translate to music lyrics is still anyone's guess.

See more CNET content tagged:
lyric, DMCA, music publisher, tune, Google Inc.


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Again, this is a civil disobedience issue
Copyrighting lyrics is fine with me; no one should be stealing your lyrics and making money from that theft.

However, charging people to read the lyrics so they can sing along, or whatever, is abusive and, well, dickish. You wrote a song, congratulations. If I like it, I'll buy it. Don't charge me for the lyrics, the MP3 version of the song I have on CD, the album art, etc. That's a move that angers the public and causes things like underground lyrics sites and MP3 downloads.

Many call it theft. I call it civil disobedience, especially in light of the fact that in the US courts, money prevails more often than justice. Individuals cannot match up against corporations, much like disenfranchised people unable to match up against armed government agents or law enforcement.

The tipping point has long been crossed. to get back in balance, some real concessions are going to need to happen. Otherwise, the underground is where people will stay.

Posted by Remo_Williams (488 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not charging for lyrics
Nowhere in this article does it say that consumers are or will be charged for lyrics. The revenue for posting lyrics to songs on a web site comes from selling ad space on the sites that post the lyrics.

Its not about civil disobedience or anarchy or public domain. These groups are distributing copyrighted material and making revenue off of providing that free service. This is the basic internet marketing business model. Deliver a service in demand for free, then piggyback ad sales on that service.

The second group in the article has the best angle here. They're not targeting Joe Schmo who posts his favorite song on his homepage, they're only going after sites that are setting up revenue streams based on that song lyric content. And all those sites have to do is get permission and possibly offer compensation to the copyright holder. Its the same thing any newspaper, book, or magazine publisher has to do.
Posted by baike (39 comments )
Link Flag
I think it's funny how these companies hate people going onto other sites for lyrics but yet most of the artists don't even have their song lyrics posted anywhere on their own sites. For example Madonna and Amy Winehouse, if you go to both their official websites you won't find lyrics anywhere and if they ARE indeed posted somewhere (I couldn't find them!) then why can't they make it easier for us to find instead of forcing us to use google?

Posted by yellow--2008 (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agree, lyrics should be made available more easily
Yeah, even worse is when you decide to buy an actual CD and the booklet doesn't have the lyrics printed in it (making me wonder what value there was in buying the CD version in the first place). If the lyrics were more accessible, there wouldn't be a business for these people making money off lyrics sites.

I also agree with the other person that said they find songs by searching for the lyrics. That's like 50% of all my music purchasing. I hear a song somewhere, write down as many lyrics as I can hear, and try to find the artist and album by Googleing it.
Posted by bartszyszka (69 comments )
Link Flag
Well thats the hook to get you to buy a CD
To get the lyrics and liner notes. However its hit or miss when you buy a CD, as th whether the lyrics will be present. That the strongest argument the "man" has for buying phyical music media, the case, notes and lyrics.
Posted by R.Jefferson (136 comments )
Link Flag
Cutting their own heads off...
Alot of times I hear a song on the radio and they never say the name of the song, band, whatever... so when I get to my computer I hunt down the song using the lyrics that I can remember, so I can find out who it was, the album, etc. Then I pop on over to iTunes and buy the single or the entire album if I like the rest of it.

If I can't find the song... poof... no money for them. Silly.
Posted by arluthier (112 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Paying for lyrics
I am much more likely to hunt down and buy, especially older CDs, if I can find the lyrics first. That tune that keeps going through your head from maybe years ago, but you never got what it was really all about, is the one I'll "google" and then buy. arluthier has got it exactly right.
Posted by BoulderSue (7 comments )
Link Flag
Maybe, just maybe...
Most of them should be forgotten and left in the compost heap of life. That way as the old songs disappear, there will be a renewal as new people come up with new songs. That is the best thing to come out of locking up your lyrics. You guarantee that you will be forgotten. Goodbye!
Posted by boratebomber (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Shut up and fix it yourself.
Hey, sometimes I would like to find the lyrics to a song I just heard.

If you want those other sites to go away, there's one very easy solution... start your own website, music companies. As soon as the CD goes gold and is released to the manufacturer for duplication, post the lyrics.

Make it massively easy to link to, have some added bonuses that only a music company could offer. Heck, put your own ads up.

Pretty soon, people will link to you, people will search you out, and your GoogleRank will rise until "I feel lucky" always goes to you.

These people are bringing solutions. All you're doing is showing that being a lawyer pays, and in turn, encouraging more young ones to go to law school, which in turn breeds more lawyers with nothing better to do than find ways to make themselves money by encouraging you to sue someone.

Just say no to lawyers.

(Yes, I'm being facetious. I'm there sure are some nice lawyers who contribute positively to society. I hope to meet one someday.)
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Most of these blogs relating to legal issues
usually wind up ranting about lawyers. TV James, you did not disappoint. Let's clear up some misconceptions, again (sigh!):

1. Lawyers do not make the laws, elected officials make the laws (and not all of them are lwayers). If you do not like the laws, VOTE against the people who made the laws you did not like, don't rant against the people who take cases to court. Have you ever heard of cause and effect?

2. A CLIENT hires a lawyer to enforce their rights or defend them if they are charged with something - a lawyers never goes into court alone on a matter without a CLIENT, unless the lawyer is representing him/her self in court. Most of them don't - they are smarter than that.

3. The large majority of lawyers are not litigators or sue anyone - they never see the inside of a courtroom.

Instead of ranting against "pond scum" lawyers, rant against their greedy, "pond scum" clients, who are trying to enforce rights they may or may not have, but rights that you appear to disagree with.

I can hear the wheels turning now......but why don't lawyers simply refuse to take cases I think are worhtless, unless they are greedy _____________(insert your favorite expletive here)? Well TV James, it is called the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and our country was founded on the principles of equality for all people who believe they have been wronged, would like to have their case decided one way or the other. Having said this, I am afraid that most people today (including our elected officials) believe these principles of justice old-fashioned and irrelevant.

Everyone in this country has the right to bring their grievance to a court, regardless of social status and income, and have a decision made by a judge. If you yourself want to be the ultimate arbiter of all that is right and wrong in this country TV James, and want to deny everyone else the right to have their case heard, or taleast those you disagree with, there is a great country on the opposite side of the world where its leaders think just like you, and would welcome you in their midst. It is called Iran.
Posted by itango (80 comments )
Link Flag
Searching for song titles with lyrics
I can't tell you how many songs I've bought which started out with an Internet search for a line of lyrics I heard. Take away the lyric sites and you take away music sales, it's that simple. Sounds as if the only winners here are the copyright lawyers.
Posted by Xenu7-214951314497503184010868 (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Helpful sites for legal downloads
A lot of songs I've downloaded I first heard on TV programs. It was usually just a line or two, but it was enough to search a website with and find something that I then paid for. The DCMA is not a lottery ticket that pays off every time someone figures out a new way that they have been "infringed" on. Get a grip people.
Posted by a155mm (7 comments )
Link Flag
More Litigation by the Recording Industry
Why am I not surprised. The dinosaur is facing extinction, so it has resorted to eating it's own customers.

Funny. I don't see any "official" method of obtaining lyrics over the web. Why are they not included with my iTunes purchases? I am sick and tired of these idiots who refuse to recognize that the game has changed, and they either need to change their model or die.

What's next? Will they sue me for typing in the lyrics to songs I own? Are Paul Anka's lyrics really that brilliant to warrant this (erm, not that I own any Paul Anka CD's, really.)
Posted by R. U. Sirius (745 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It varies....
Some sites do this, some sites are totally Unique and make their own music from scratch, not only the Lyrics but also the music.

I like Rap Music - this is a cool web site made by some bunch of guys using off the shelf equipment. If you have talent, there is no need to steal anything.
Posted by RompStar_420 (772 comments )
Reply Link Flag
At Least One Sanctioned Search Site
The story mentioned the Yahoo Music lyrics search site. I haven't used it yet, so I don't know how well it works, but Yahoo got permission to publish the lyrics. It is stupid that lyrics aren't posted by the publisher or artist on the appropriate websites, but there is at least one legal place to search.

The other lyrics sites ostensibly are infringing on copyrights only insofar as they make money on the deal. I suspect if the lyrics sites were non-profits and only used ad money to offset their service costs, there wouldn't be a problem.

The industry and artist complaints have to do with others profit at their expense -- even if they weren't poised to do anything to garner that money. They don't seem to want to eliminate the lyrics sites, they just want their share of the profits or to eliminate the profits. I'm not sure that's a bad thing.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yahoo Lyrics search ...
I do use Yahoo for lyrics to make sure a song's clean or because like everyone else, I've gotten one line of a song stuck in my head and have to find out what it is. Yahoo's ok ... just ok. It's not like they have every song by every artist.

There is no good, safe centralized place to look for song lyrics. I don't go to alot of the websearch sites simply because of the pop-ups/pop-unders.

As far as the smaller sites that have, say, google ads. How much money do you reckon alot of these sites are actually making, if they're even making a profit? Some of them may just be trying to find a way to pay for their hosting service.
Posted by msditz (4 comments )
Link Flag
Aren't these "derivative works"?
Most of the lyric sites I visit are more like forums where someone has listened to a song and typed up the words as "they" heard them and post it. The posted lyrics are then dissected by members of the forum and corrected/changed as more information is learned. That sounds an awful lot like a Derivative Work <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> and is protected and legal AFAIK but IANAL.
Posted by clumpkin (46 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Copyright violation
I've never understood why and it's many competitors could drive such an amount of traffic without someone complaining about breach of copyright... Time to get it right!
Posted by prolif (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is the same as . . .
. . . the publishing industry starting to sue sites that show
"guitar tabs" for songs because they feel that if you want to learn
to play a a song you like on your guitar you need to purchase
the printed copy from them.

If they could, all of these organization would like to set it up to
where everytime you read a book, listen to a song, sing with a
bunch of friends at a garage band party, hum a tune to yourself
in the shower, they would be able to charge you a fee or sue
you for copyright infringement.
Posted by K.P.C. (227 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stamping Out Music
If some force of evil were ever to come along with a goal to stamp out all music once and forever to turn us into soulless zombies, they probably would use copyright law to do it -- in the same way the American music industry is doing. Maybe they should just pay their congresscritters to pass laws making it a felony to even think about a song under the guise that music affects the mind akin to a narcotic drug.
Posted by spruceman (38 comments )
Link Flag
They Should Get Off their Butt's
I use those lyrics sites to settle bets, figure parts of songs that I can't understand and so on. If the music companies had sites that did that life would be good. If they don't, tough, nobody is taking money they are not trying to make if they are not bothering with their own lyrics sites.

If they did get off their butts and do what people obviously want, they could do it better, and make money off google adds. An no I'm not going to pay for looking up yrics. They should make their money off google ads.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mommy! Mommy! She's cheating! :-(
I've heard of a lot of silly things related to copyright, but this one rates at the top.

I would agree that those sites are likely infringing copyright. At the same time, why is it that the song writers did not go out and create such sites themselves? In my entire life, I never saw an encyclopedia of song lyrics that I could purchase. Clearly, they never cared about potential revenue. I could almost guarantee that not a single song writer would have ever gotten off their rumps to create such a site, had it not been revealed to them that there is actually revenue potential.

Now that some web sites are making money, they cry foul. Song writes, music companies, and whoever else owns the copyrights to songs should first go create a great song lyrics web site and then file their complaints directly with the infringing web site owners. Even then, they ought to be a little thankful to those sites for revealing to them that there was such an opportunity. Perhaps they ought to buy those sites, rather than sue them!

Instead want to sit on their hands and complain to Google? Come on!
Posted by paulej (1261 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Duh, obvious market
So lots of people are going to web sites to find lyrics. And some of those sites make some money buy using ads. So where are the RIAA execs from? What business in American was not started by someone saying "People want product A, I will produce product A and earn money by doing B." All that the musicians/RIAA need to do is create their own web site with the lyrics and put some ads on the page. They could make money by referring customers to Amazon/iTunes/... and get a partner credit, plus get royalties.

If customers have a choice of getting lyrics from the artist, or what others can figure out, of course people will go to the artist as the source. Then, instead of the RIAA just making bad publicity and spending money on lawyers and lawsuits, they would compete with the other lyric sites and would easily win because of access to the source. This would cause the other lyric sites to close. So the RIAA would get both their goals - make money and close down other lyric sites - and all without losing all of their money to lawyers.

P.S. The reason I waited until 2002 to get a CD player was that you would more likely get lyrics with a cassette than with the CD.
Posted by mikeburek (418 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the music is the product, not the lyrics
when are these idiots going to lay off?
next when you buy and mp3 you're going to have to pay added
fees for:
? lyrics
? album art
? id3 info
- ?
Posted by smqt (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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