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Posted on Thursday, April 17, 2014

Are You Pirating Music Without Realizing It?

To most people, music piracy means illegally streaming or downloading a copyrighted work without payment to its creator. In other words, there is a realization that each and every illegal download of a song deprives the creator of payments he or she would have otherwise received through legitimate sales. This type of music piracy is obvious, because perpetrators are aware they’re getting something for nothing.

But what about lyrics? If you ever used the Internet to look up lyrics to a song, you might not have felt like you were depriving its writer of revenue. But the truth is that most websites featuring the lyrics of popular songs are not licensed by the works’ copyright holders, and therefore constitute duplication of protected works without permission or compensation. “But,” you ask, “so what? How am I taking money out of anyone’s pocket by looking up lyrics that are passively posted on the Internet?” While it’s true that the website rather than the consumer would be responsible for paying licensing fees to the artists, there’s a less obvious source of funds that might be going into the wrong pockets every time you take to the Web in search of lyrics: advertising revenue.

Some lyrics sites are heavily monetized by advertising, especially if they contain the lyrics of popular songs by frequently searched artists. With Web traffic metrics so easily accessible and certain demographics searching more frequently for some types of music than others, advertisers see popular lyrics websites a way to predictably reach a sizeable targeted audience. This can result in tremendous revenue for these otherwise passive websites that don’t actually sell any products or services. You can bet that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, the artists whose lyrics are featured won’t see a dime of the ad revenue made possible by such web traffic.

If that sounds like a surefire business venture to you, guess again. The National Music Publishers’ Association has already won judgments in excess of $7 million on behalf of its members against websites that feature unlicensed lyrics. There are a few websites out there that do post licensed lyrics, including LyricFind and MusiXmatch. Cut down on unwitting music piracy by seeking out a licensed source the next time you find yourself struggling to recall the lyrics to that song you just heard on the radio.

Frank Gulino is an award-winning composer and attorney with Berenzweig Leonard, LLP. He can be reached at FGulino@BerenzweigLaw.com.

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