The Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery is now a researcher at the University Of Georgia, and he’s also become a crusader for musicians’ financial rights. He was most recently seen on this site decrying Pandora’s practice of paying musicians a pittance for streaming rights, and he also famously shamed an NPR intern last year for publicly admitting that she’d downloaded a ton of music illegally. And now, based on a study by Lowery, the National Music Publishers Association has filed take-down notices against 50 different websites dedicated to posting song lyrics.
As Pitchfork reports, Lowery has put together a study that names 50 websites, all of which post song lyrics without licensing those lyrics from music publishers. The site names Rap Genius, the massive CliffNotes-for-rap-lyrics clearinghouse, as its highest offender.
Rap Genius co-founder Ilan Zechory has been emailing with The New York Times about the issue. He won’t say whether the site has paid to license those lyrics (and it seems pretty clear that it probably doesn’t), merely saying that the site “can’t wait to have a conversation with [publishers] about how all writers can participate in and benefit from the Rap Genius knowledge project.” He also attempts to distance his site from the other offenders by claiming that Rap Genius offers a valuable service by getting its readers to interpret lyrics rather than just posting them.
Music publishing is a facet of the music business that can be easy to ignore, but it’s a huge deal. Bars have to pay publishers for the rights to play music, and TV sports broadcasters have to pay for whatever bits of marching-band music make it to air. So it seems entirely possible that lyric sites might legally have to pay for the rights to the lyrics they post. Still, the most interesting thing about this whole story is the idea that the crackers at Rap Genius, who have been accused of profiteering from a culture they don’t represent, might face their greatest challenge in the guy from Cracker. Obviously, the best way to respond to this whole thing is by posting appropriate parodies of Lowery lyrics in the comments section. I’ll start.