In 2013, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker frontman David Lowery released a list of the top 50 lyric Web sites he believed weren’t paying songwriters to display the words to their songs. Through a process of systematic web searching, the underground rock pioneer turned musicians’ advocate ranked what he found to be the worst offenders.
The National Music Publishers Association quickly seized upon the list, sending take-down notices to all 50 sites. The strategy proved successful, and the threat of litigation along with the blitz of bad publicity that ensued convinced many of the most popular sites to pursue licensing agreements with publishers.
While many in the music industry might have assumed there wasn’t much money at stake, Lowery suspected otherwise.
People Google song lyrics over 5 million times every day, according to digital lyric licenser LyricFind. That’s not an insignificant amount of Web traffic, and if many of the ad-supported sites people are visiting are unlicensed, songwriters are missing out on meaningful royalties from the use of their copyrighted work.
“The idea for me was to kind of clean up the market,” says Lowery, adding that “Lyrics are a popular thing to search for, and you’ve got to wonder if there’s more money out there.”
Song lyrics are a shorthand for how people express their feelings and emotions. Nowhere is this more apparent now that Bob Dylan — a songwriter no less — is the newest Nobel Laureate in literature.
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