Authorized Lyrics Sites Kinda Suck

A little over a year ago, we talked about the first legal lyrics repository on the internet. Turns out, these legal sites are realizing they cannot compete with unauthorized sites that actually give the user what they want: searchable, copy-and-pastable lyrics.

“We’ve had what we call modest success,” said Michael Spiegleman, senior director of Yahoo Music, the first company to adopt Gracenote‘s lyrics content more than a year ago. “It provides a fairly decent level of traffic, but it didn’t take off quite to the extent that we originally projected.”

So-called “rogue” lyrics sites — which display song lyrics without any permission from, or payment to, the publishers that hold the copyrights — still dominate the field. Because they’ve been around longer, they rank higher in Internet search results and therefore get the majority of traffic.

“The fact is, we don’t rank that highly,” said Howie Fung, senior product manager for, which licenses the LyricFind service. “There are so many illegal sites out there that it’s kind of tough to break through the rankings, so that hasn’t worked out as well as we would have liked.”

It’s not because “they’ve been around longer” that the unauthorized lyrics sites rank higher; it’s because their pages actually contain the text of the lyrics that the consumer is searching for. The authorized sites are crippled with a kind of DRM that renders them virtually useless by displaying what is in effect just a graphic image of the lyrics: not actual text. Search engines index text, and rank their results based on matching text (among other things).

The National Music Publishers’ Association is an atavistic relic of a bygone era that predates recorded music. The reality of the matter is that lyrics are just facts. And the Supreme Court has already decided that you can’t copyright facts.

7 thoughts on “Authorized Lyrics Sites Kinda Suck”

  1. To play devil’s advocate for a moment, can you copyright musical notation? Or would the actual notes on the page be facts as well? If so, what protection does a creator have over his work?

  2. My personal feeling is that the notes (tab, etc.) and the lyrics are just facts and should be open and free. Songs would still be copyrighted and (in my ideal world) if someone covered your song and made money from their cover, the songwriter would get paid a set percentage.

    I see no need for the music publishing industry at all.

  3. Yeah, I can see that. There was a time (like 100 years ago) when there was a service provided: printed tabs for musicians who wanted to perform hits of the day. That service is no longer needed, thanks.

  4. Why should musical notation need to be protected? Should some kid playing a song in his living room have to pay to learn it? Should he pay if he figures it out by ear?

    You pay if you try to sell your performance or if you want to buy something the artist says wasn’t created by a 14 year-old who doesn’t know the real way to play the song.

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