Lyrics Sites Illegal? - Interview with Darryl Ballantyne

January 16, 2006

By Keith Jenci

Darryl Ballantyne is president of LyricFind, Inc., which specializes in lyric search services. In light of recent news that the MPA will be cracking down on unauthorized sites, I was of the opinion that the music industry didn't have a business model to replace the freely available lyrics at sites today.

I was wrong.

LyricFind has been negotiating license agreements with music publishers for the last year, and currently has over 328,000 tracks licensed, with more to come. Mr. Ballantyne agreed to answer some of my questions, and to help explain what's going on with the lyric site crackdown from his perspective.

Interview with Darryl Ballantyne

At webmaster forum geek/talk, in a thread from April 18, 2005, you posted "I can assure you there are no lyrics sites that have a license."

  • Is it still true today that no lyrics sites have licensed content?
Yup, but that will change in the very near future.

The unauthorized lyrics sites in operation today display song lyrics in plain text.

  • Is this something that would need to change if they entered into license agreements with rights holders?
  • How does the LyricFind service protect content from being easily duplicated?
Yes, this is something that will have to change, but not to the extremes seen in the past (like the changes made to when it came back after being shut down). Our clients are required to use basic copy protection such as disabling cut/paste/print/view source functions, but not to the extremes of using Flash apps or images to display lyrics, or other methods that make sites so frustratingly unusable they may as well not even be there. The publishers we're working with have been very understanding about this and have bought in to the idea of making sites work without forcing major changes upon them.

In a Billboard article, MPA President Lauren Keiser said (in regards to approaching lyrics sites as potential partners), "If someone was robbing your bank, would you go to them and say, 'Hey, let's split the cut?'"

  • Is this attitude typical of what you've dealt with while negotiating license agreements with music publishers?
I won't comment specifically on the attitudes of publishers. Some of them have been good, others have been bad. But since we haven't been robbing any banks, we haven't gotten that specific comment :)

In 1999, the International Lyrics Server ( was shut down. Tab site Online Guitar Archive (OLGA) had a couple legal encounters in the 90s. This didn't stop unauthorized lyrics and tablature sites from proliferating.

  • Are the current MPA threats going to fundamentally change the way these sites operate?

Yes, for sure. And part of the reason is LyricFind (yeah, it's partly our fault). With the advent of companies like LyricFind that aggregate content and licensing and make it very, very easy for sites to license the content and operate legally, there will be more of an enforcement push. The biggest reason there was no enforcement before was because there was no alternative for illegal sites - they'd shut a site down but really gain nothing from it (arguably, they would lose promotional value). Now that lyrics are beginning to be monetized, there is real value being lost to these sites, which will cause the publishers to step up enforcement.

It was an inevitable occurrence - I'm actually surprised it took this long (especially since we first tried to do it in 2000/2001, and ILS tried in 1999). Publishers certainly have a right to enforce their copyrights, and be compensated for their use.

That being said, publishers need to realize that lyrics sites are a reality, and regardless of the level of enforcement, there will always be sites operating offshore or underground, and they need to work with them rather than against them - and for the most part, the publishers we're working with DO realize that. Not only that, we've managed to structure deals with them in a way that allows us to offer content (and excellent meta data, thanks to our partnership with All Music Guide) at a rate that allows them to continue to operate on an ad-supported model and turn a profit. We're not out to put lyrics sites out of business, and neither are our publishers. It would be silly to just shut down all these sites (that are currently serving over a billion pages a month, and bringing in many, many millions a year in ad revenue), and despite what anyone says, they all realize that.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

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