Are Song Lyrics Protected by Copyright?

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Copyright protection automatically occurs the moment an expression is fixed.  That’s the moment a recording is made, the moment a cartoon is penned, and the moment song lyrics are written on paper.  That being said, why are there so many websites which offer song lyrics without obtaining licenses from the songwriter?  That is the question University of Georgia lecturer and rocker David Lowery asked.

Lowery has been on an active anti-piracy crusade.  He has created an “Undesirable Lyric Website List” which highlights the fifty most popular websites which offer song lyrics without the permission of the songs’ writers.  He started this campaign after noticing that song lyrics are frequently suggested from auto-fills on search engines.  It is obvious that large sums of money are spent to rank high in the search results and more taken in from advertising on lyric websites.

Of course these websites will not change their practices if money was not at stake.  Reproducing another’s creation is the basis of copyright infringement.  Some of these websites have already been held liable for infringement; LiveUniverse and LyricWiki have already received judgments of over $7 million for their infringement.  It is this kind of threat that will push other websites to seek licenses.

Both songwriters and website hosts alike can learn a lesson from this situation.  Any songwriter, whether a multi-millionaire professional or a garage band enthusiast, can protect their creative works.  Conversely, people do not necessarily have to shy away from posting lyrics to their favorite song.  People looking to make money from posting lyrics can contact the songwriters to obtain a license.  License aggregators can also lower the cost per song in a license.  Naturally, individuals seeking to reproduce lyrics for educational or satirical uses are always protected by fair use.  If you have any questions about copyright protection, please contact us at 732-444-6303.