Rap Genius Pays Sony for Lyrics in Bid for Legitimacy

Text annotation hub signs its first licensing deal with a major publisher

Rap Genius Lyrics Licensing Deal Sony Illegal
Rap Genius founders and sneaker buffs Tom Lehman, Ilan Zechory, and Mahbod Moghadam Photo by Getty Images
Chris Martins WRITTEN BY
Chris Martins

Earlier this week, popular song lyrics hub Rap Genius was named the number one offender on a list of 50 sites publishing artists' words without the proper licenses. Each was supposedly hit with a take-down notice courtesy of the National Music Publishers Association, who alleged "blatantly illegal behavior." Now Rap Genius has begun the expensive process of doing it all legal, securing a licensing agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, who have 31 percent of the global song rights share.

As noted in our first report, Rap Genius co-founder Ilan Zechory seemed confident, if not cocky, when the news broke, saying "We can't wait to have a conversation with them" and emphasizing that his site, which received a $15 million investment last year, is all about context thanks to the active user community who annotate the lyrics. In a new statement, the New York-based company claimed that the Sony deal was finalized "earlier this year," which, technically, is hard to argue against.

Zechory's partner Tom Lehman told Billboard that conversations with other publishers are currently taking place, and that Rap Genius' relationships with artists (who sometimes contribute their own notes to the site) "will only grow stronger," which is likely since they'll no longer be stealing musicians' intellectual property. He reiterated his team's goal "to add context to all important texts in people's lives," whether it be poetry, news, literature, science, news, or other.

Meanwhile, NMPA President and CEO David Israelite has softened his tone. "We simply want those that are making money off lyrics to be business partners with the songwriters who created the content that is the basis of the sites," he said, adding that his organization's goal isn't to force those sites to shut down, but to get them to pay up. Not an unreasonable request considering many of those spam-traps are advertising-enabled. Still, it seems more likely many will disappear.

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