Man Bites Dog–Music Publisher Apologizes for Overreaching C&D

By Mark Schultz

In a truly newsworthy item, Billboard reports that music publisher Warner/Chappell “privately and publicly” apologized to Walter Ritter. Ritter is the creator of PearLyrics, an software app for iPod users that downloads song lyrics from lyrics sites (which post lyrics without permission). Earlier this month, Warner/Chappell threatened Ritter with litigation for distributing his tool, and he pulled it from distribution.

Ritter posted the apology on his site:

Joint Statement of Walter Ritter, pearworks and Richard Blackstone, Warner/Chappell Music:

“Based upon our common goal of helping consumers enjoy the song lyrics they want – and our common belief that technology can help to transform the music industry to the benefit of consumers and artists alike – we are committed to working together to provide consumers a convenient, legal way to find accurate song lyrics.

The goal of Warner/Chappell’s prior letter to pearworks was to gain assurance that pearLyrics operated according to those principles. However, in both tone and substance, that letter was an inappropriate manner in which to convey that inquiry. Warner/Chappell apologizes to Walter Ritter and pearworks.

Our solution will adhere to our shared belief that songwriters must be fairly compensated for their work and that legitimate web sites with accurate lyrics must not be undermined by unlicensed web sites.

We look forward to working together, and to helping to advance the evolution of the music industry cooperatively for the benefit of consumers and artists alike.”

Did this apology come about because I blogged a couple of days ago that it would be good business for the music industry to behave more reasonably? Of course not. I’m an academic. Nobody listens to me. Ritter credits EFF super-litigator Fred von Lohmann and his open letter to Warner/Chappell for persuading them to behave more reasonably. Nice work, Fred!

Of course, the music industry has not changed its ways overnight. In the article linked above, Billboard also talked to Lauren Keiser, President of the Music Publisher’s Association. He has not changed his tone much from my report the other day, where he called for jail time for operators of infringing lyrics sites. When asked if he would consider working with lyrics sites, he replied:

he is not inclined to approach these sites first as potential partners. “If someone was robbing your bank,” he asks, “would you go to them and say, ‘Hey, let’s split the cut?’”

On the other hand, Keiser shows some signs of coming around. Since he announced the litigation campaign, he has received many e-mails suggesting ways that MPA members might cooperate with lyrics sites for mutual benefit. He concedes that some

came up with some good ideas. “I’ve printed out a number of them, which I’ll show the board next month,” he says. “I think our members would be happy to support sites that want to help them exploit writers.”

I’m delighted to see that somebody from the music industry realizes that the best thing for all concerned is less litigation and more exploitation.