Lyrics Website Fined $6.6m For Copyright Infringement

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We’re all aware that the rights-holders of recorded music are pretty protective of their intellectual property, and put in a lot of effort to shut down anyone that they feel may be infringing upon their rights. But last week a California court added a new wrinkle to this effort. If you’ve ever wondered what the lyrics to a certain song were, you’ll know that a simple Google search will generate thousands of sites where the song’s complete lyrics have been reprinted. Or, as the screengrab above indicates, 1.4 million sites.

Well, it turns out that music publishers also have proprietary rights in the lyrics of a song, separate from the complete recording itself, and some of them sued LiveUniverse.com, one of the biggest and most-trafficked lyrics websites on the Internet until its closure in 2010. The plaintiffs’ beef was, in essence, that the website was reprinting their lyrics without a license, and was making profits off pop-up and banner ads, and so were infringing upon the labels’ copyright.

LiveUniverse owner Brad Greenspan apparently went through a so-called “revolving door of attorneys,” and missed key hearings and depositions. Most importantly, he didn’t adequately file a response to this complaint, and so last week a default judgment was issued against his site. LiveUniverse was ordered to pay “statutory damages in the sum of $12,500 per each of the 528 songs shown to be infringed for a total of $6,600,000″.

What do we learn from this? While the idea of pasting a song’s lyrics onto one’s own website may seem harmless – particularly since it’s such a widely-practiced thing – now we know that lyrics, themselves, are serious business. It looks like the publishers are only going after the massive lyrics archives which turn considerable profits, though, so your Tumblr site of Jim Morrison’s “poetry” should be okay for the time being.

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