Online Song Lyrics & Royalties

The exclusive rights granted to songwriters under U.S. Copyright Law and assigned rights under publishing agreements is a vital source of protection and income for copyright owners in the music industry. Copyright owners receive royalties when song lyrics are used, and it is generally understood that copyright owners are compensated when songs are used on television, in movies, and are otherwise performed.

So what about websites that compile the lyrics to songs?

Lyric aggregation sites are once again under scrutiny for copyright infringement allegations for posting song lyrics without paying royalties to songwriters. According to LyricFInd, lyric searches on Google reach an estimate of 5 million per day, which stacks up to serious cash for songwriters whose lyrics are found on non-paying websites.

Music publishers are reaching out to lyric aggregation sites to have sites obtain licenses or face take down notices for infringing activities. Not only will licenses help songwriters get paid for their works, but they can also help regulate the quality of lyrics posted to sites. Many lyric aggregation sites rely on user submitted lyrics, which often contain incorrect lyrics and can devalue the songwriters’ creation.

Some music industry professionals and lyric sites question the fight against unlicensed online song lyrics, finding the payout to songwriters is inconsequential compared to the time and money battling unlicensed use. According to a study by Peter DiCola of the Northwestern University School of Law, only roughly 6% of an artists’ revenue stream comes from songwriting royalties. Although this percentage is small in comparison to other revenue streams, it is not representative of the non-performing and non-touring songwriters.

Whether or not licenses from online song lyric sites will provide songwriters with a big payout, the battle over song lyric aggregation sites will perceivably continue.


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