Google Lyrics SearchDj vu?

    December 20, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

At what point has the music industry’s fierce guarding of it’s content gone too far? And how far does Fair Use protect Google as it seeks to index the world’s information? The biggest blow-out of the year was between Google and publishers over the Google Book Search project. The next big blow-out may land Google in the sights of the music industry after the search company launched a music lyrics search function.

A Google search for the lyrics to Fiona Apple’s “Pale September” yields an initial return of three sites to find the waifish diva’s poetic lyricism. It also provides a link to iTunes and Real Rhapsody where the song can be purchased.

According to Media Post, the Music Publishers’ Association and the National Music Publishers’ Association have recently complained that websites posting lyrics are violating copyrights. The organizations also attack tablature, a notation system simpler and more explicit than traditional sheet music, as information that damages a songwriter’s ability to make a living. If all of the world’s information is Google’s carrot, then tablature is eventually included.

David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers’ Association, likened the posting of lyrics and tablatures to stealing, while Music Publishers’ Association President Lauren Keiser said his organization would begin taking action against sites that post lyrics next year.

But Media Post’s Wendy Davis also describes Warner/Chappell Music’s back down after the Electronic Frontier Foundation pressured the organization to apologize to pearlLyrics. pealLyrics distributed a software that allowed iPod users to add lyrics along side of downloaded songs.

Fair Use, argues EFF attorney Fred von Lohmann, should cover buyers of audio music to seek out lyrics if they choose.

Since the proliferation of online music piracy has surged, music companies have cried foul because of the loss of revenue piracy generates. The widespread availability of lyrics and tablatures, they say, pose a similar threat to profits.

However, a recent report from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School says the word of mouth value that comes with peer-to-peer file sharing actually may bolster music purchases.

“Nearly one quarter of frequent online music users say that the ability to share music with others is a key factor when selecting an online music service. And a third were interested in technology that helps them discover and recommend music, such as tools that allow Internet users to publish and rank lists of their favorite songs. Perhaps most important for the recording industry, a tenth of those surveyed said they frequently make music purchases based on others’ recommendations,” reports TechNewsWorld.

The article goes on to show that some music industry workers are exploiting that viral capability.

“I have a Rolodex of hundreds and hundreds of narrow-casting, blogging, and niche-community Web sites that target the audience I’m trying to reach,” says Interscope Records’ Courtney Holt. “I make sure the core people get information early.”

Some may argue that wooing the users of shared content is a better strategy than an iron-fisted pay-or-else approach. The interested market is readily available and easily directed to where they can purchase. And if downloading pay-for-play music gets to the point where it’s easier than pirating, we may see a surge in legal usage.

Google has at least covered a base it may have neglected in the past-providing a ready link to music sellers. But the music sellers may be missing a golden marketing opportunity if they continue to be song-Nazis along the way. And if the music industry remains as adamant as print publishers, then we may see a sequel to the Book Search drama.