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NMPA Shows that Standing Up For Your Rights is a Good Thing for Everyone

November 14, 2013

If you had to pick a creator class that has gotten the absolute worst end of the stick in the digital years, it would have to be songwriters.  Often people who just write songs (so no t-shirt economy for them), they create co-equal copyrights with sound recordings, but without songwriters there would be no recordings.

It all starts with the song–music and lyrics.

David Lowery noticed awhile ago how much traffic that lyric sites garner, which in a way is no surprise.  Fans have long been interested in getting the lyrics for songs, and there used to be a fairly good business in selling sheet music and “personality folios” for hit albums and even not so hit albums.  Makes sense, right?  If you have fans that are interested in lyrics and you have artists and record companies expending tremendous effort and treasure to make the songs hits, wouldn’t the publisher want to protect its investment in the songwriters who wrote the hits by selling sheet music of those hits while the song was topping the charts or the artist was touring?

Wouldn’t the artist, often the artist-writer, want to sell beautiful sheet music folios to fans who wanted to know the lyrics, learn the songs or play the songs themselves?

This is not lost on the lyric site–websites that display copies of song lyrics and often sell advertising frequently served by you know who.  Yes, lyrics–or as they are known at Google, keywords–are tailor made for advertising.

As part of his research at his University of Georgia post, Lowery developed a set of criteria for ranking the top sites that appeared to be unlicensed according to his criteria.  Lowery’s “Top 50 Undesirable Lyric Websites” took inspiration from comments by Google’s UK Policy Manager Theo Bertram during a debate with Lowery earlier this year.  Bertram said essentially that if an advertiser came to Google and said that they didn’t want their advertising to appear on undesirable sites, Google would find that easier to deal with than being asked to make a determination of legality.

Lyric sites are particularly good candidates for licensing, mostly because the publishers have developed a fairly comprehensive licensing program so getting legal is quite doable.  Meaning that there really isn’t much excuse for not getting legal.

After Lowery published his second installment of the Undesirable Lyric Website list, the National Music Publishers Association used it as the basis to launch a campaign to encourage the top 50 (and others, too) to get a license.  Note that these sites are not blogs, personal websites, fansites or critics.  These are high traffic sites like Rap Genius (#1 on the list and in the top 750 or so websites in the United States based on traffic that just got a $15 million cash infusion from Mark Andreeson’s VC fund).

Lowery makes the anecdotal point that given the high level of traffic and the popularity of lyric sites, they often appear higher in Google’s Autocomplete than even the Bit Torrent sites they often drive traffic to.

David Israelite, the NMPA’s CEO, could not have been clearer that he fully intended to try to motivate these sites to get a license–one of the readily available licenses–but failing that, there was going to be a stick.  Some people need that threat, but let it not be lost that what Israelite really wanted was commerce.  Better for fans, better for the lyric sites–and most of all better for songwriters.

And sure enough–after making some odd noises, RapGenius and market leader Sony/ATV announced today that they’d made a deal (see Glenn Peoples’ article in Billboard).

So let’s not hear anything about how the music business doesn’t embrace technology or any of that bunk.  The music business–like many other people over the last couple thousand years–don’t like free riders taking their stuff.

As David Israelite said of the RapGenius deal with Sony/ATV in Glenn People’s article:

Although Rap Genius has been sent takedown notices, NMPA President and CEO David Israelite says the organization wants to facilitate licensing deals, not shut down unlicensed sites. “We simply want those that are making money off lyrics to be business partners with the songwriters who created the content that is the basis of the sites.”

Is that really so hard?  You shouldn’t need a burning bush to tell you that.

This is the way that music and tech should roll, and we couldn’t be happier about how NMPA handled it all.  Or in the words of Charlie Daniels, that’s how you get ‘er done, son.

Update:  Peter Kafka writing in AllThingsD quoted RapGenius as saying about themselves:

Rap Genius is a monument to human knowledge. Like the Talmud before us, our goal is to add context to all important texts in people’s lives.

Although I am often described as an Old Testament kind of guy, I had not read the Talmud reference when I mentioned the burning bush above.  But before you say what ridiculous slop, realize that the Talmud reference is not original with the company’s spokesman.  No, this actually comes from Mark Andreessen’s public explanation for why his company was investing $15 million in Rapgenius.

It turns out that Rap Genius has a much bigger idea and a much broader mission than that. Which is: Generalize out to many other categories of text… annotate the world… be the knowledge about the knowledge… create the Internet Talmud.

Or to paraphrase Google, Rapgenius is annotating the world’s information whether the world likes it or not.

Yes, these Silicon Valley guys really are borderline cases.  But this should not be surprising from a company that incubated at Silicon Valley venture capital fund YCombinator.  (See what is a prime example of bloodlust, “YCombinator RFS 9: Kill Hollywood“, and yes, they do mean “kill Hollywood” literally.

Beware–crazy hippies with money.

See also What’s Next for Rap Genius, The Internet Talmud

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