It looks as if I'm only going to be logging my editorial activities when I've got a bee in my bonnet about something.

This month's bee: E2 Copyright Violations: Same Song, Second Verse

We all love songs. Or at least, all of us love certain songs. Of course the quality of the lyrics varies; some groups' verses are beautiful, and can stand on their own as very good poetry. Other lyrics, when taken out of their musical context, sound like the rambling of an addled three-year-old.

Regardless of their quality, I have to say that it's a beautiful thing to be able to look up said lyrics, to be able to determine that Mick Jagger was not singing "I was raised by a two-headed lesbian" but was instead singing "I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag".

It's useful.

It's cool.

And it's against the law.

And ultimately, that just ain't cool any more. Stuff like this is why the Web and those who publish on it have such a bad reputation in some quarters. And I say E2 should become something better than that.

A lot of us editors have turned a blind eye to the rampant copyright violation involved in the noding of unexplicated lyrics. We've been discouraging it, but that's as far as it's gone. Everybody's doing it, we tell ourselves. The fans love it, and who's it hurting? The music industry megacorporations? Who cares. We'll leave it all up and let the users have their fun and worry about it when the lawyers come a' knockin'.

But posting a bare, unexplicated lyric is a clear violation of intellectual copyright laws. It's not a technicality, not a grey area: it's against the law.

Posting lyrics in the context of a good analytical writeup, however, is fair use, and can be very, very cool. dannye's I Can't Make You Love Me is a good example of how to handle this; I'm sure you can find other examples.

Posting public domain lyrics, such as those of old blues or folk songs, is legal. So is posting lyrics for bands such as The Grateful Dead who have given reuse permissions to the world at large. Posting copyrighted lyrics after you have gained explicit permission from the copyright holder is entirely cool.

So, if you've got permission, tacit or explicit, you should always make a note of this on your writeup. And even if you have permission, annotating said lyrics in an interesting, edifying manner is a much better way to go.

Speaking as an editor and content producer, I can no longer in good conscience turn a blind eye to the copyright problem of lyrics posted here at E2.

It's not enough to let it go on and wait for the lawyers to find us on their own. Tacitly allowing the violation of others' intellectual rights while expecting people to respect your rights is hypocritical at best.

I can't speak for other editors, but I'm going to start nuking unexplicated lyrics nodes, starting with fled users. And since I have a limited amount of time to spend here at E2 these days, it'll take me a while to get around to auditing active users' accounts.

If you have lyrics nodes up, make 'em right in the eyes of the law.

  1. Write to the copyright holder and ask for permission. When it is given, add a note to your node stating such.

  2. Can't get permission? Can't figure out who to contact? Then explicate your lyrics. And creating a short intro paragraph talking about how much the song means to you isn't enough to satisfy the letter or the spirit of fair use, I'm afraid. You need to get into the guts of the song. You need to make the writeup fundamentally your work rather than someone else's. For more detailed guidelines on fair use, see sites such as

If any of you have any questions about this etc., please feel free to message me. I really, seriously, am not doing this to be a wet blanket squelching the fires of noders' musical enthusiasm.


Sunday, November 24, 2002 2:49:xx update:

dem bones says re Editor Log: November 2002: Actually, I'm sorry - but I can't have you doing this. I understand how you feel but the copyright issue is our biggest one and if we tackle it it will have to be on all fronts. As it is now we operate under DMCA protection...

Roninspoon says: Bones and I have spoken at length about this. It's weird, and anti-intuitive, but we're following the word of the law by not removing them in mass. I feel your pain, believe me. I'm one of the biggest champions of copyright and slayers of plagiarism round these parts. I know it's strange, but it's the law. If we formulate a policy, then we are liable for all content and open to litigation. If we form no policy, we are protected by the DMCA and we simply remove those nodes that CP holders complain of.

The Management hath spoken, it appears. The official policy is, there is no official policy. But remember, kids - plagiarism gets deleted, period.

However, if you want Lucy-not-speaking-for-management to benevolently smile upon your work: if you've noded unexplicated lyrics, do the right thing. Rewrite your nodes to adhere to fair use. I and The Spirit of Copyright Past thank you.

11/27/02 Update:

I was in communication with most excellent poet Mark Strand. Turns out that, until a few days ago, he didn't know that several dozen of his poems were here at E2. Nobody had asked his permission; he asked that his poems be removed from the site. I have removed all that I could find.

Ask permission before you repost other people's work. Period. Most writers have webpages these days; if they don't, most poets are faculty someplace and thus have faculty email addresses. Those that have neither home pages nor faculty gigs have publishers, and most every publishing company I know of has a website with contact addresses. Don't be lazy; lazy can get E2 sued.