Fifty music lyrics websites were recently sent takedown notices by the National Music Publishers Association for allegedly profiting off of artist’s work without their approval or without providing them compensation. Although music lyric sites have existed for several years — probably since around the same time as Napster — they have remained largely untouched by prosecutors and out of the larger conversation about digital copyright infringement on online piracy.
The most high-profile of the sites targeted by the NMPA is undoubtedly Rap Genius, the site that began as a tool for hip-hop fans to add annotations and interpretations of rap lyrics but has since evolved to include the ability to annotate other texts. The NMPA’s challenge is significant simply because of the amount of money flowing through Rap Genius. According to Billboard, the company received $15 million in investment funds from Andreessen Horowitz last year. Rather than embracing the site as several rappers already have via its verified annotations feature, music publishers are fighting back. Just as the RIAA did with its lawsuits against illegal downloaders of music, the NMPA appears to be attempting to stop an uncontrollable beast.
Rap Genius co-founder Ilan Zechory explained that he was not worried about the NMPA’s claim that his company does not have the license to publish the lyrics hosted on the site.
Zechory issued the following statement in response, via The Atlantic Wire: "Rap Genius is so much more than a lyrics site! The lyrics sites the NMPA 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. 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. Furthermore, music is only a small part of what we do. Rap Genius is an interactive encyclopedia for annotation of all texts - anyone can upload and annotate texts relating to music, news, literature, religion, science, their personal lives, or anything else they want."