The law is coming, and it's coming down hard for Rap Genius and 49 other websites.
The National Music Publishers Association has sent out take-down notices to these 50 websites due to their use of copyrighted lyrics without a license. Thanks to a report by University of Georgia researcher David Lowery, the NMPA sent out these notices after he identified them as likely not having the proper licenses. The organizations demand that Rap Genius and the other sites obtain the licenses in question, or remove their site from the Internet. But the NMPA isn't going after fan sites: only the commercial sites that aim to make money off of the copyrighted content.
"Based on the popularity of lyric searches, it is possible that unlike the sound recording business, the lyric business may be more valuable in the Internet age," Lowery wrote in his report. "Indeed, the vast majority of these websites seem to have well established monetization schemes based on advertising. Many of the sites appear to have accounts with major online advertising exchanges and prominently feature advertising from major brands. There are even companies that appear to specialize in matching specific lyrics to key demographics for advertisers."
The take-down notices are what comes before copyright infringement lawsuits are initiated, a warning, essentially. Last year, LiveUniverse, a site that used unlicensed lyrics, was shut down in a $6.6 million lawsuit. So, this isn't anything new.
Rap Genius co-founder Ilan Zechory is trying to sell the site as being a "knowledge project." Zechory said, "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," he continues. "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."
We'll see if that defense holds up against the law.
Here's a list of the websites served with the take-down notices: