The Losing Battle Over Lyrical Copyrights…

Streaming is marginalizing the file-swap, but the same can’t be said for lyrics.


According to one major publishing executive, the web has been ‘infested’ with unauthorized lyrics sites for nearly two decades, with most fans unaware that any laws are being broken.

“Limewire’s out of business, AZLyrics isn’t.”

(Update 08/31: there’s some disagreement over whether AZlyrics has been recently licensed; it appears that some agreements may have been signed several weeks ago.  We’ll be updating soon.) 

Fast-forward to 2013, and lyrics sites are among the most heavily-trafficked destinations online, with zero going back to lyrics writers or publishers. “You can’t really tell the lyricist to sell t-shirts exactly,” the executive continued.

The oft-outspoken David Lowery, a professor at the University of Georgia, estimates that the lyrics business is actually worth more in the internet era, regardless of who’s getting paid.  In a just-published study on the matter, Lowery ranked the 50-largest illegal lyrics destinations and found a large percentage profiting from major advertisers.   


The impressive list demonstrates that this is not only big business, but that big advertisers are also benefitting.  “The vast majority of these websites seem to have well-established monetization schemes based on advertising,” Lowery notes.  “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.”

According to Lowery, there are several reasons why all of this is flying under the radar:

(1) Most people are completely unaware that lyrics are protected under copyright law, or care.

(2) There is very little legal action against massively-illegal lyrics websites.  “There are no law enforcement actions that I am aware,” Lowery notes.

(3) Online lyrics are generally regarded as a low-revenue game.  Lowery points to sheet music as the analog equivalent to lyrics and tabs destinations, a far less flashy and low-revenue sector.

Lowery hasn’t put a valuation on this sector (yet), but clearly thinks it’s bigger than most think.  “The industry is robust and flourishing,” Lowery notes.  “Just like their music streaming and music download counterparts, licensed lyric sites compete with many unlicensed sites that are not burdened with royalties to songwriters and publishers.”

(Ranked by search result rankings)


(update: looks like is licensed after all, per Lowery and

Website major brand ads
1 yes
2 yes
3 yes
4 yes
5 yes
6 yes
7 yes
8 yes
9 yes
10 yes
11 yes
12 yes
13 yes
14 yes
15 yes
16 yes
17 yes
18 yes
19 no
20 yes
21 yes
22 yes
23 yes
24 no
25 yes
26 no
27 yes
28 yes
29 yes
30 yes
31 yes
32 yes
33 yes
34 yes
35 yes
36 no
37 yes
38 yes
39 yes
40 yes
41 yes
42 yes
43 yes
44 no
45 yes
46 no
47 yes
48 yes
49 yes
50 no

21 Responses

  1. jw

    Illegal lyrics websites are flourishing because a legal alternative doesn’t exist. If I wanted to find the lyrics to a song legally, where the ad revenue went back to the songwriter, I wouldn’t have any idea where to start.
    Fair or not, at least these websites are trying to serve the consumer. I haven’t seen publishers take a single step in that direction. This is revenue that the publishers left on the table.

  2. The Rub
    The Rub

    I have been trying to license lyrics legally for many years. The publishers are not interested in a direct deal with a lyrics store, ad supported – there isn’t enough money in one store
    You cannot charge for lyrics, there are too many free options
    The genie is well out of the bottle now. The sites have been allowed to explode in popularity.
    The majors have attempted to close the lyric sites. The problem is you cannot close all lyric sites, and if they did they would have to close all blogs with lyrics (as these would creep up the Google results) and all web pages, they would have to close down the entire internet to stop illegal lyrics.
    The only solution is a free bolt on to Spotify streams and iTunes downloads. But who will pay for that?… not iTunes for sure. Maybe record labels, but really the publishers should take the hit. Doing this will close down the illegal sites.

    • Not true
      Not true

      Unless I’ve been sold a total snow job that is not true. That is the point of and To license small sites.

      I can give you contacts at if you need it.
      The thing is publishers are waking up to the amout. of web traffic that these sites generate. I’m pretty sure this is actually a success story for the web and music. whereby there was never really a market for song lyrics except for the biggest artists. Now it seems like they are some of the most popular websites out there.
      Web advertising acts as a kind of “micro-currency” that makes previously unprofitable niches like lyrics for songs profitable. I beleive that lyrics could be one of the first music properties that are more valuable now than pre-web.
      I could be wrong too. needs investigating.

      • Tony

        I like all of which you have said. Please provide me with your contact information as you’ve indicated as this would be helpful to my current situation. Thank you

  3. Casey

    If you want to squash the illegal lyric sites, then get as many publishers and songwriters together as possible and stand up a competitor. Make the database completely open and searchable. There is no reason the industry can’t come together and create an ad-supported site that displays lyrics. Consumers have no loyalty to these unlicensed lyric sites. They use them because they are convenient. Create a portal they can go to and quickly find what they want and that generates enough popularity to top the search engine rankings and these lyric sites will be history. Take it a step further and create a platform to allow users to buy songs from music stores or stream the track right there from a licensed streaming service using an embedded player. Release apps on all mobile platforms. Allow people to favorite or tweet their findings using Facebook and Twitter. The possibilities are endless.

    • Central Scrutinizer
      Central Scrutinizer

      “There is no reason the industry can’t come together and create an ad-supported site…”
      You seem to have forgotten that we are talking about the music industry here.

  4. Michael

    Ah, the lyric debate.
    Either as a single word or part of a phrase, “lyrics” is very regularly in the top ten searches on search egnines.
    There is money in lyrics, not directly inasmuch as no one I know would pay for them but indirectly through ad-supported sites.
    They are making a killing. As noted below, the bona-fide sites are battling against unfair competition that scrape each others’ user-generated (and often poor quality) lyrics.
    Let’s add insult to injury: the scraper sites only very rarely credit the writers. Imagine a site devoted to guitar solos that forgets to mention that Santana or Stevie Ray Vaughan actually played the solo.


    • jw

      You’d think having the actual publishers of these songs on your side would put you at an advantage against crowd sourced, content scraping, illegitimate lyrics sites.
      The fact that it doesn’t tells pretty much the whole story.

  5. Max

    This is Max, Ceo & Founder fo musiXmatch. is a legal site and it has been licensed through musiXmatch.

    • mahesh

      How to get license from your site. I want to create a lyric website.

      Mahesh Kumar

  6. Fletcher Clark
    Fletcher Clark

    I am doing some test marketing to see if there is a demand for leadsheets of the works of singer-songwriters. Although somewhat accurate lyrics may be available, even from a well-selling independent artist/publisher, in the modern era there is rarely available the written melody, lyrics, chords and structure in leadsheet form once used for the filing of a copyright registration. The question is whether a sufficient number of folks still actually read music to warrant the transcription, layout and vending online of sheet music and/or songbooks.

  7. sojolcpi

    Thanks for this information. It is very useful for us. We are a music writing team. We have need a composer, music writer, musicians, song writer and singer. Now we try give a musicians music jobs. We are wanted composer very quickly. Because our all writing need to compose and then publish.
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  8. David

    It would be nice if there were a legitimate source of song lyrics, if only because then they might be more accurate, but in general there isn’t. Digital downloads from iTunes etc don’t usually come with lyric sheets, even as an option, though it would not be technically difficult to provide them. Even CDs and LPs don’t always have lyric sheets (e.g. Bob Dylan’s albums in the 60s and 70s were usually released without them), and when they do, they often contain Mondegreens, suggesting that the task of compiling them has been left to some record company staffer and not checked with the songwriters. As for song sheets and songs books, these are confined to a small minority of songs, and in any case no-one who is just mildly curious about a lyric is going to buy a songbook.
    So while I share David Lowery’s annoyance that lyric sites are profiting from copyright infringement, I doubt that most songwriters are actually losing any significant income in consequence. (There may be some exceptions.) The solution to the problem is for songwriters and/or publishers to set up a legitimate site of their own, with comprehensive and carefully checked authentic lyrics. This would then attract advertising which might actually provide a useful soource of income.

  9. David Lowery
    David Lowery

    Hard to make snarky comments on DMN anymore. Facts keep getting in the way. No fun.
    Fact: There are many licensed lyric websites. Two main services license them and musixmatch.
    But it would be nice if there was a centralized list somewhere. You can check Lyricsfind licenses right here:
    And due diligence. yes I’ve already found a mistake in my list. go to to see slightly updated list. but there is a licensed site on my original list.

    • jw

      Balonga, Lowery. Pure balogna.
      Here’s the thing. The publishers own these songs. Right? So they have the lyrics somewhere, otherwise what do they own & how do they prove it?
      Maybe musicxmatch & are paying the publishers, but that doesn’t mean that the publishers are getting off their asses, does it? Nope.
      Used a site ( to search for a few of my favorite artists… Ben Kweller, David Vandervelde, the Elected, Devin Davis. Only result was 1 Ben Kweller song (out of 5 full length albums). The site would ask me, “Would you like to add these lyrics?” LMAO. If I knew the lyrics, I wouldn’t have ended up there in the first place. And you want me to do all of the work & you keep the profits? Yep… sounds like the music industry.
      And them musicxmatch just scraped the web for their content. Which is more extensive, but not necessarily accurate. I used their Spotify app to check the lyrics to Indio by Matt Mays. What I hear is “Yellow yellow moon on the rise, in the key of C ten coyotes cry.” The lyrics it gives me are “Yellow, yellow bloom on the face, in the key of sea, 10 colors… high.”
      Now I’ll give musicxmatch their due… it’s as good if not better than the illegal alternatives, & I installed their Spotify app (my first, actually). But it’s not what the legal offering SHOULD be. And what’s worse, they don’t have a web presence. WHAT!? You’re NOT going to sidestep Google for this kind of content. You have to have a web presence.
      I mean… how hard would it be for the publishers to just provide the lyrics? Why shouldn’t the legal offering be HEAD & SHOULDERS above the rest? Why shouldn’t it be RIGHT and COMPLETE? Why won’t the publishers get off of their asses & do something proactive? Until they do, I have no sympathy & don’t care to hear them complain.
      I stand by what I said, snark & all. There might be sites making money for the publishers, but that doesn’t mean that the publishers have taken the first step towards providing a legitimate product.

      • jw

        Also, it’s total bullshit that some publisher is getting paid for me having viewed those bogus Matt Mays lyrics.

      • jw

        To state my point in a more concise way, if publishers want to monetize lyrics online, it should not come by crowd sourcing lyrics or by scraping crowd sourced lyrics. Ethics are an issue, but so is accuracy.
        If it’s a big enough deal for them to complain about it, it’s a big enough deal for them to create a legitimate database. End of story.
        It’s bad enough that you used to be getting lyrics when you purchased music & didn’t have to google them.

      • DUDE

        This guy’s got a point, if publishers wanna collect on this they should be the ones providing the lyric sheets and credits to a legally licensed site instead of doing nothing… that sort of thing is squarely in their lane as copyright admins for their writers, and if they’re not doing their job here I find it difficult to sympathize with their concerns about not getting paid
        Given that most crowd-sourced and scraper sites are not that good both in terms of content quality and in terms of design, it shouldnt be too difficult for publishers to provide a better alternative… I would guess that the reason they havent acted on this already is because there’s not really meaningful sums of money at stake


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