Could Spotify’s new lyrics feature be Illegal in the US?

is spotify lyrics illegal desktop hozier press image

If you’re an avid Spotify fan, you probably heard that, among the popular streaming service’s latest updates is a lyrics button, which brings users a pop-up window with a song’s lyrics scrolling at the bottom of the screen. But is this feature copyright infringing?

Joseph Vangieri, the CEO of karaoke provider DigiTrax, thinks so, according to a report on Hypebot.

Citing the sync licensing clause of U.S. copyright law, he says that Spotify (and its lyrical partner MusixMatch) should have to clear songs with their copyright owners in order for them to show a song’s lyrics scrolling as the song plays simultaneously.

Sync licensing refers to adding a musical act’s group alongside an ‘audiovisual work.’ It’s primarily used when placing a song alongside a TV ad for a car or other consumer product. (Remember that Ecuador ad featuring “All You Need Is Love” ? It netted the Beatles well over a million dollars.)

But this copyright clause also effects karaoke providers, as songs are ‘synced’ to a moving karaoke ball on the screen. Vangieri feels that Spotify should have to abide by the same rules that diminish his and other karaoke providers’ income because the lyrics will be ‘moving.’ In a statement, Vangieri said that “karaoke should be a multi-billion dollar industry in America, but because the lyric synchronized to the music is a video sync, each song must be cleared.”

The question becomes whether moving lyrics should be characterized as an ‘audiovisual work.’ Vangieri surely thinks so but the jury’s out on what the music industry — and, ultimately, the judges — think.

This wouldn’t be the first time Spotify interacted with the law. In 2013, London dance music company Ministry of Sound filed a lawsuit against the service for users’ ability create playlists that duplicate the firm’s compilation albums.


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