If you ever looked for song lyrics online, you know how most lyrics sites are. Plenty of ads, popups, silly scrolling flash gadgets, bad punctuation, and no easy way to send in corrections. Why not apply to lyrics the same community-driven editing model that has made Wikipedia so successful?
LyricWiki.org has done exactly that, and more. They have provided an API, making it easy for media players to query the database and fetch the lyrics for a specific song. To get an idea of this project’s success, check out these stats. At the time of this writing, LyricWiki is the fifth largest MediaWiki in existence, and the largest wiki that is not a Wikipedia or Wiktionary. What an inspiring example of a community built around the ideals of improving content and making information available. What could go wrong?
Well, how about this. Who owns the copyright on song lyrics? Right, the artist who wrote them. And who represents the artist? Right, a record company. And what do record companies do to nice sites like LyricWiki?
The following message appeared in the lyrics applet of my beloved Amarok earlier this week:
Unfortunately, due to licensing restrictions from some of the major music publishers we can no longer return lyrics through the LyricWiki API (where this application gets some or all of its lyrics).
My first thought when seeing that was, “Huh?! It used to work yesterday.” Apparently, less than 24 hours have passed between the announcement that developers need to change their applications, and the moment the LyricWiki API actually stopped working for retrieving lyrics. In a way, this is a good thing. I hope a lot of users put the pieces together and figured out who is really to blame.
Now let’s see how Amarok handled the situation. Within 12 hours, the bug report had a patch. In the next two hours, the patch was tested, and a glitch was found and fixed. The next day (still less than 24 hours from the time the bug was reported), the patch was pushed to Git. As an Amarok user observing this process from outside, I thought the turnaround time was pretty darn good!
Unfortunately, getting this fix to the users was not as quick and painless. Since lyrics fetching is done in a script, there is no need to recompile Amarok. Furthermore, we have KNewStuff for installing and updating scripts (among other things). So we are just a step away from allowing users to fix the lyrics problem using Amarok’s Script Manager. Why not take it?
(Besides the fact that the script is not on kde-apps, another minor issue is that it only works for Amarok 2.1.1 and trunk. Because of this, the script needs modifications to work with Amarok 2.1, which is still shipped by Kubuntu. But nothing that can’t be fixed in code in 5 minutes.)
Congrats to the Amarok team for being so close to greatness! Amarok was one of the apps that switched me towards KDE in my early days with Linux (the other one was K3B). So I’m glad to see it rocking even harder today.
Now let me return to LyricWiki for a minute. Can someone enlighten me as to why the music publishers would impose such a restriction on them? If I were an artist and you came asking for my lyrics, I would gladly give them to you and thank you for listening to my stuff. I’ve heard of people selling music, but… selling lyrics?!
I hope that as technology makes recording and distribution cheaper, more artists will take matters into their own hands and release their stuff independently.
PS. If you are reading this on Planet KDE and wondering who I am, Hi! I am doing a GSoC project in Akonadi / KMail, mentored by Thomas McGuire. I may provide an update about that later, if the mood strikes.