Peter Kafka

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Rap Genius Already Hugging It Out With Music Publishers


You know that big fight a bunch of us were looking forward to, featuring Silicon Valley darlings Rap Genius versus the music-publishing industry?

Looks like we’re not going to see it, after all.

It turns out that Rap Genius, the lyric-publishing/explaining site backed by Andreessen Horowitz, among others, has already signed a deal with Sony/ATV, the world’s biggest music publisher.

The two companies announced the news this morning via Billboard, and Rap Genius says the pact was inked “earlier this year.”

It’s a bit odd that neither company mentioned this anytime between now and Monday, when the National Music Publishers’ Association went after Rap Genius and a bunch of other websites that publish song lyrics without licensing deals.

And it doesn’t mean that Rap Genius isn’t vulnerable to legal action from other publishers. For starters, it is probably going to need to make deals with Universal Music and Bertelsmann, the two other really big publishers.

But the Sony deal makes it plain that Rap Genius does plan on cutting those deals, and that any talk about the site relying on “fair use” arguments to publish lyrics without permission is basically a negotiating fig leaf. Makes sense.

UPDATE: Here are many comments from the Rap Genius folks, Sony/ATV boss Marty Bandier, and… Nas. Nas? Nas.

Rap Genius:

We’ve got nothing but love for the NMPA and all music publishers. Rap Genius was born out of our passion for nuanced and beautiful lyrics, and so in many ways the entire site is a paean to music writers and publishers.

All our dealings with music publishers reflect this love, the biggest fruit of which was the landmark licensing deal we signed with Sony, the world’s largest music publisher, earlier this year. This partnership has already been magical for both sides, and the symbiotic relationship between Rap Genius and artists will only grow stronger as more publishers board the “Rap Genius Love Train” (toot toot!!)

But we don’t want this conversation to distract people from our true mission. Rap Genius is not a lyrics site, nor is it a music site. Rap Genius is a monument to human knowledge. Like the Talmud before us, our goal is to add context to all important texts in people’s lives. Lyrics are very important texts and so they’re a big part of this mission, but the vision of Rap Genius goes far beyond music and touches poetry, literature, the bible, political speeches, Supreme Court opinions, science, everything!

And text is just the beginning! Already the Rap Genius community is annotating images, movies, TV shows – all of human culture! Personally I can’t wait to click on the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows and see what they’re all about. Much love.

Rap Genius allows our songwriters and artists to connect directly with their fans in a new and exciting way. And the site’s popularity is certainly due, in large part, to our songwriters’ lyrics. We look forward to the continued success of the Rap Genius service.

– Martin Bandier, Chairman & CEO, Sony/ATV Music Publishing


As an artist who has been making music since the 90s I am constantly seeking new avenues to connect with fans that was not at my fingertips 20 years ago. Rap Genius is an outlet that provides fans with something they have always sought: access into our craft. In our tech-savvy society where streaming is actually having a positive impact in reducing piracy, organizations such as the NMPA should understand and embrace the ever-evolving mediums in which music is consumed. The #1 issue that the music industry has always had is its lack of innovation and the inability to pivot along with our audience. I admit I have had my challenges with this as well, but being a member of the Rap Genius family since it’s inception has really opened my eyes to how incredible music enthusiasts are. Rap Genius is an educational vehicle and a social network that quenches their thirst for knowledge. As members of the music community, WE WANT our fans to know and understand our art and this is what this platform accomplishes. Rap Genius is a non-traditional academic institution that engages and sparks dialogue amongst its constituents in a way that makes makes professors and scholars envious. If anything, Rap Genius makes people want more music!

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