The developer of a song-lyric search utility has been forced to kill the application after being threatened with legal action by UK music publishing giant Warner/Chappell.
Walter Ritter, creator of the Mac OS X-based pearLyrics, was this week sent a cease and desist letter by the publisher. The company claims pearLyrics "enables people to copy and download lyrics. Inevitably this will enable people to download lyrics owned or controlled by this company, Warner/Chappell Music Ltd.", the latter states.
As a precedent, the letter, seen by The Register, cites the US Supreme Court's June ruling on the movie industry's legal battle with P2P software companies. This is rubbish, of course: Ritter is based in Austria, and the Warner Chappell's letter comes from the UK - neither territory falls within the US Supreme Court's jurisdiction.
However, by reproducing a song's lyric, even though the words are all easily accessible through any web browser and a half-decent search engine, pearLyrics is arguably contributing to the infringement of Warner/Chappell's copyright. A song's words, music tabulation and guitar chords are all as well-protected by copyright law as the sound recording they're heard in. Copying the words out of a CD booklet and posting them on the net is as much an infringement as ripping the tracks and posting them, though arguably less harmful to the artist concerned.
Ritter isn't alone. His application shipped with a Widget for Mac OS X's Dashboard tool, and a number of other lyric-displaying Widgets have been pulled of late from Apple's download directory.
Of course, if pearLyrics is guilty of contributory infringement, so is Safari, Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer, but we haven't heard that Warner/Chappell is pursuing Microsoft for allowing its users to seek out stolen lyrics.
We attempted to contact Warner/Chappell to discuss the matter, but the company did not respond to our request for comment. ®