Do U.S. laws allow the reposting of a UK band's lyrics without permission?
November 21, 2004 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I've seen the lyrics to a UK band's song posted on a blog hosted in the US, without a copyright notice or a 'with permission' blurb. Is that legally OK in the US?
Previous search of questions reveal little.
posted by dash_slot- to Law & Government (12 answers total)
IANAL... but I would say yes, in principal this could be legal in the US, and the UK for that matter. The question is answered in the copyright restrictions imposed on the original work and whether the website in question respected the copyright holders' wishes in republishing the work.

If the website have the band's permission, the band (or other copyright holder) may or may not have required copyright notice be given. No copyright notice is required for material to be legally copyrighted. It is unlikely this was the arrangement, but I'll give them the presumption of innocence.

More practically, unless the website is making a sizable profit in republishing lyrics, the copyright holder has little to gain in pursuing copyright infringers. They have to show damages to collect real money. They copyright holder can fairly easily make the website stop distributing the material, but the end result is pissing off the fans.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2004

Response by poster: Just to be clear: it's not a general lyrics site at all. It's a political site. I doubt that this quintessentially english band know of the site, which has a certain unwholesome rep.

I doubt even more that they'd happily be associated with it. Few if any fans would be inconvenienced, as the lyrics are already published in myriad other places.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:50 AM on November 21, 2004

Best answer: The best thing to do would be to inform the band's representatives in the UK, and let them sort it out. Even if it is illegal, you have no dog in the fight and can't do anything more than that.
posted by smackfu at 9:58 AM on November 21, 2004

It is (technically) an infringement to post lyrics to a song without the permission of the rightsholder, which is generally the band or its label. And as unlikely as it seems, sometimes rightsholders do go after sites who post lyrics and/or tablature. So the answer is, yes, if you wanted to spend your time in an attempt to get a site with whose political philosophy you obviously disagree C&D'd by a record label, there is a chance your efforts would prove fruitful.
posted by Danelope at 10:05 AM on November 21, 2004

The band could definitely do something about it, but on their end, to actually go through any sort of legal process would yield nothing material for them and could prove quite a hassle.

Maybe if the band were offended enough they could get their lawyers to send a spooky letter and hope that that's enough. Personally, I'd be more amused if you could contact the band's representatives and then the bandleader or whomever just made an official proclamation to the effect that the offensive site is run by jerks. But that's just me.

(Oh, and is it sad that I think I know which band and which site you're talking about? Being temporarily stranded in Schenectady, I found myself checking offensive political sites out, and was surprised to see XTC quoted in full. Isolation does crazy and boring things to a man...)
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:18 AM on November 21, 2004

Response by poster: Well, I'll take the fifth on that, Sticherbeast. I guess any fanboy could make a complaint to the copyright holder, or wherever. It isn't about loss of sales of their books of lyrics, just about the webmaster catching some cool by quoting the lyrics.

Especially galling if the site is a warblog, and the band have written anti-war songs.

Anyway, thanks for the replies, guys.
posted by dash_slot- at 11:14 AM on November 21, 2004

Just to add a minor correction to Danelope's comment - the rights-holder of the lyrics of a track from whom permission must be sough is most often the publisher. Record labels themselves often have to seek permission from the publisher in order to put the lyrics of a song on the sleeve, and you'll normally see a "Lyrics reprinted with permission" caveat on sleeves which contain the lyrics...
posted by benzo8 at 11:54 AM on November 21, 2004

Without more details, it's somewhat hard to say. Who owns the copyright and where they've registered it would both matter, as would various facts about the site that posted the lyrics.

From what you've said so far, there's a decent chance the unsavory web site's usage would be considered fair use under American copyright law. For a good basic overview of the fair use doctrine, check this overview from the Stanford library.
posted by jewishbuddha at 12:02 PM on November 21, 2004

More practically, unless the website is making a sizable profit in republishing lyrics, the copyright holder has little to gain in pursuing copyright infringers.

They have to show damages to collect real money.

This is completely incorrect. You've obviously never heard of statutory damages.
posted by anathema at 3:38 PM on November 21, 2004

Hmmm, it might be more helpful to provide information on statutory damages, yeah?
posted by naomi at 4:15 PM on November 21, 2004

posted by anathema at 4:20 PM on November 21, 2004

As an aside, in the UK the football authorities have been going after fan web sites publishing their teams fixture lists as they are copyright.....
posted by brettski at 1:32 AM on November 22, 2004

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