By now, if you’re a fan of music and music websites, or at least a troller of popular music news websites, blogs and online magazines, you’re well aware of the latest fight between the NMPA (National Music Publishers Association), RapGenius, the extremely popular lyric-based website for basically all things in terms of Hip Hop lyrics, and 49 other lyric websites that have been targeted by NMPA as being “blatantly illegal”.
Reported on sites including HipHopDX.com, AllHipHop.com and DigitalMusicNews.com, the NMPA argues that sites like RapGenius are illegally displaying the published work of tons of artists without a license. As a consequence, the NMPA has sent take down notices to 50 of these sites, including RapGenius, to either obtain the proper licensure, or completely remove the published lyrics from the respective websites.
RapGenius just so happens to be the most popular and noteworthy website of the laundry list that has been targeted by the NMPA. Other sites include lesser-known names such as Lyricsmania.com, Lyricstranslate.com, Lyricstime.com, Metal-head.org, Karaoke-Lyrics.net and Songonlyrics.com. The NMPA’s list of 50 sites is apparently based on a study conducted by researcher David Lowery of the University of Georgia. Using a methodology created by Lowery specifically for the study, RapGenius has been named the most “blatant and illegal” offender.
So then, what does this particular case say about the idea and concept of music ownership in the 21st century music business model and economy? Mainly that it’s still a muddled, unclear mess that’s still being debated and handled much like it was with the advent of sites such as Napster and the introduction of iTunes, which both seem like eons ago now. Much the same way that the powers that be in the music industry took the most heavy-handed, “Hulk Smash” approach to litigating sites such as Napster out of existence when it became all the rage, the NMPA seems to be taking a cue from Jay-Z in one of his most famous lyrics: “We’ll kill you muthaf***in’ ants with a sledge hammer…”
The truth of the matter is that the music industry has entered a more social, remixed, sharing economy, community fueled state in just the past few years alone. Artists of all kinds are not only putting out music for free, but also allowing their fans to remix and remaster their work in ways unheard of before, be it with interactive videos or audio files shared across the Internet. Some festivals in the 21st century take the approach that The Grateful Dead popularized in the 1970s by encouraging fans to capture and share footage of live music, making the experience as a whole more interactive an inclusive.
All of this begs the question: Who owns what? And it’s not an easy question to answer, especially now. A website such as RapGenius.com covets itself as being the guide to learning about Hip Hop, R&B and soul lyrics of all kinds, and allows just about anyone to make annotations to the lyrics of the site, as well as texts relating to music, news, literature, religion, science, and more.
The main conflict with this, however, always seems to go back to the legality of a site such a RapGenius displaying and annotating the lyrics of published artists. Somewhat similar to the argument that the major record labels had against Sean Fanning and Napster back in the day. These are two ideas that are right and true in their own way, but continue to conflict: the right to the ownership of certain materials and who gets to claim that ownership, and the idea of the sharing economy, where ownership can essentially belong to everyone.
This is a battle that’s sure to rage on as the music industry continues to contract and expand. We will be sure to keep an eye on it here at SoSoActive.com