This week's Get Lyrical Fiasco gave me pause to consider some options iTunes users have at their disposal for gathering lyrics. First of all, there are several good applications that can do this--check Version Tracker.
No, scratch that.
I mean first of all, lyrics are copyrighted material and how you get them is your own business. As far as I know no music publisher posts lyrics royalty-free. All those lyrics web sites are copyright infringers. That's why when you do see lyrics legitimately published or posted, unless used for critical or newsworthy purposes, they also must include a disclaimer to the effect that permission was granted by the music publisher to use the lyrics. Sure, some people would argue that the lyrics are out there for anyone to write down or otherwise duplicate--one can listen to the radio and write down the lyrics of any song--but to publish them without the copyright owner's permission is an infringement of applicable laws.
That being said...
Apple did not provide the "lyrics" tag in iTunes so that wide-spread copyright infringement could ensue. Their defense could easily be, "Well, you can input any text you want in the lyrics tag. How an iTunes user decides what text to use in the lyrics tag is not our problem." And they would be legally safe and right.
Which of the following is legal under US copyright law?
- Listen to a song and transcribe its lyrics to the lyrics tag yourself
- Go to a lyrics site and copy the text and paste it to the lyrics tag
- Use an application that tries to locate the lyrics of a track and copy the text to the lyrics tag
The only legal answer is the first one.
I have tried to develop scripts that scour lyrics sites for accurate song lyrics. And you know what? I gave up. The majority of them are filled with so much advertising crap that it is a waste of time to try and parse around it. The fact of the matter is they exist to get your web hits. They are not a public service. Indeed, they are a public nuisance. If I were a music publisher, music artist, music writer, I'd be wicked pissed-off that my work is being stolen and re-published without my permission and without my being compensated.
I have read rumors that Apple is working with publishers to provides lyrics in tracks downloaded from the iTunes Store. That would be fine.
But stealing lyrics from crappy websites is just as bad as stealing music. Art's art, man.