Photo Credit: Jason Thrasher
UGA Music Business Program lecturer and Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery is unhappy about a lot of things these days. Recently, he has devoted plenty of blog space to professing his unhappiness with the YouTube Music Awards (you can find all his #YTMA coverage here, including posts where he digs up grainy jihad recruitment clips and spammy "buy-steroids" videos in an attempt to prove the point… that YouTube is evil? Or a serial copyright infringer? Or maybe just bad for kids? It's sort of unclear).
Elsewhere, Lowery has spearheaded a study that attempts to out the 50 most "undesirable" lyric websites (ick, that phrasing)—unlicensed (or dubiously licensed) sites that publish song lyrics—with the No. 1 culprit emerging as the community-oriented, hip hop-centric annotation site Rap Genius. The National Music Publishers Association has taken the case.
Writes Lowery in his report:
Based on the popularity of lyric searches, it is possible that unlike the sound recording business, the lyric business may be more valuable in the Internet age. Indeed, the vast majority of these websites seem to have well established monetization schemes based on advertising. Many of the sites appear to have accounts with major online advertising exchanges and prominently feature advertising from major brands. There are even companies that appear to specialize in matching specific lyrics to key demographics for advertisers.
(It's worth noting that Rap Genius, which aims to eventually "annotate the world," is ad-free, though it boasts some powerful backers.)
Lowery also admits, however, that his methodology might be flawed:
It is entirely possible that some of these sites are licensed and we have not been able to locate those responsible for their licensing. If you feel your site has been mistakely included in this list, please contact us at uga_undesirable_list<AT>outlook.com. We will confirm your licenses and will be glad to remove your site from the list if you are in fact licensed.
In an email interview with the New York Times, Rap Genius co-founder Ilan Zechory avoids the question of whether the site is properly licensed, but says that it should be viewed differently than those websites which simply offer transcriptions of song lyrics:
The lyrics sites the N.M.P.A. refers to simply display song lyrics, while Rap Genius has crowdsourced annotations that give context to all the lyrics line by line, and tens of thousands of verified annotations directly from writers and performers. These layers of context and meaning transform a static, flat lyric page into an interactive, vibrant art experience created by a community of volunteer scholars.
It's all very complex, of course, and pretty darned fascinating, underneath all the hyperbole. Expect this battle to play out on the web in the coming months, and expect the outspoken Lowery to remain on top of it all, as he does.