Friday, December 09, 2005

xerox those song lyrics for me

i saw this bbc story this morning about how next year, the music publishers' association (MBA) is going to start going after websites that provide song lyrics and guitar tablatures. and the MPA doesn't want to just shut down some websites and collect some fines: MPA prez lauren keiser said he wants to "throw in some jail time".

when i was younger i always hated when i would buy a tape and it wouldn't have the lyrics printed in the liner notes. being young, idealistic, and still naive about intellectual property issues, i couldn't comprehend why any band or label would want to put out a record without including the lyrics. how else were music fans like me supposed to memorize the words and sing along?

i have since learned about the multiple kinds of licenses and rights involved in the music business. song lyrics are protected by publishing rights, which are totally separate from recording rights, and often the copyright owner for the recording does not own the publishing rights (though it's always been routine for artists to sell off all their copyrights in a desperate attempt to get a little more money from the labels). so if a record doesn't have the lyrics printed in the liner notes, it might be the case that the label and/or artist don't have permission to reprint them.

these days i use lyrics websites to help me track down music i hear on the radio. the djs on 96.3 (blazin' hip-hop and r&b) never back-announce the songs they play. when i start to hear a new song that i like, i try to remember some of the lyrics and type them into google when i get home. most of the time, this leads me to lyrics sites where i can learn the artist name and name of the track, and then i can set about acquiring a copy.

then later today i was browsing boingboing and saw their post on this story. i'd already skimmed the story, but on second read, i noticed something peculiar about the passage that boingboing quotes:

"The Xerox machine was the big usurper of our potential income," he said. "But now the internet is taking more of a bite out of sheet music and printed music sales so we're taking a more proactive stance."

fairly typical hardline IP rhetoric, so i didn't think much of it the first time around. but read it more closely. keiser is using the brand name xerox as a word to mean "photocopy".

xerox corp. hates it, absolutely despises it when people use "xerox" as a synonym for "photocopy". in the industry this is known as trademark dilution. trademark holders must battle against trademark dilution because if they don't, they stand to lose their trademarks. for example, once upon a time, bayer held trademarks on the terms aspirin and heroin, but the US govt later genericized these marks, so that now anyone can call their products "aspirin" or "heroin" and bayer can't do a thing about it (though "heroin" is not a smart word to use in most markets). if the same were to happen to the word "xerox" then any jagoff could build a copy machine, slap "xerox" on it, and sell it. this would be devastating for xerox corp.

so, in virtually the same breath in which he proclaims that he wants to toss people in the slammer for violating his intellectual property, keiser is himself abusing the intellectual property of xerox corp! gotta love the irony there.

1 comment:

dj empirical said...

the last paragraph mentions that itunes app that searches the web for lyrics, which was just shut down. (i think i sent you the link yesterday-ish).