Lowery, a lecturer in the Music Business Program and leader of the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, exposes the overlooked trend via a methodology that ranks the top 50 “undesirable” websites that use musicians’ work without compensation.
There are three reasons, he said, that websites like Rap Genius and Lyrics Mania continue to operate: An unaware public, a lack of high-profile legal action and an (incorrect) assumption that these sites make little money.
According to the paper, lyrics websites generate heavy traffic, which can be turned into profit. One licensed lyrics site (www.azlyrics.com) frequently ranks in the top 500 websites in the U.S., and several others have sophisticated monetization methods based on advertising.
“This is an evolving study of unlicensed lyric sites,” Lowery said. “I am still developing the process so that it clearly identifies the biggest unlicensed sites that draw the most traffic away from the licensed lyric sites. In parallel, I'm trying to encourage the development of a centralized database for licensed sites.”
Unlicensed sites, or those that reprint lyrics without compensating artists, lure in thousands of visitors who may not know that they’re contributing to illegal practices. The paper is an important step toward rectifying these sites’ effects on musicians and the music industry, Lowery said.
“In the short term this list can be used by the two private companies empowered by the music publishing business to license these sites (LyricFind and MusixMatch),” he said. “It allows publisher trade organizations, publishers and individually songwriters to concentrate infringement notices on the biggest unlicensed sites,” he said. “Finally it allows advertisers to see which sites are most likely to be unlicensed and to consider legal liabilities when designing online advertising campaigns that use potentially use these sites.”