Friday, February 20, 2009

Publishing Lyrics at Websites

Dear Rich: I have a question. I am helping to create a website and one of the components is to provide some advice about songs and music that might be appropriate for funerals. I'd really love to include the lyrics so that folks could peruse them, along with a link to a spot where the piece is being performed. But I am a wee bit worried about spending sleepless nights in jail for including the lyrics -- even though they're all widely available on many sites. We did not intend to offer any commentary, just the bald lyrics. Will I run into a legal problem? I'm so glad you asked. The short answer to your question is that you will be violating the law, but that you probably won't run into problems. Publishing lyrics without authorization is a violation of U.S. Copyright law. Back in the old days (before the year 2000), music publishers went after lyrics websites with a vengeance. Now, unauthorized lyric reproduction is rampant. That doesn't mean that music publishers are tacitly permitting it; they're still sending out DMCA takedown notices and they're even considering going after Google, whose search engine is part of the profit-making machine in which lyrics are used to sell ringtones, affiliate products, and Google Ads. They've also set up a legit alternative -- in April 2007, Yahoo and Gracenote created an online lyrics license service that includes rights to lyrics from some (but not all) of the major music publishers. But that service has yet to click for legitimate lyric licensing the way iTunes has clicked for legitimate downloads. In summary, the Dear Rich staff does not want you to get nasty letters from lawyers but the staff believes that the odds of getting such a letter are slim.