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Music lyrics site pulls content offline

A popular Canadian song lyrics site takes most of its content temporarily offline as a peace offering to potentially litigious music publishers.

A popular Canadian song lyrics site has taken most of its content temporarily offline as a peace offering to potentially litigious music publishers., based in Waterloo, Ontario, is seeking the permission of publishers to continue posting its database of about 75,000 lyrics to popular songs. Chief executive Darryl Ballantyne said he hadn't yet been contacted by music publishers' organizations such as the Harry Fox Agency, but that his site had unexpectedly grown large enough to warrant worrying.

"We started this as a hobby and didn't expect it to be as popular as it became," Ballantyne said. "We decided to be proactive on the issue, rather than letting them find us."

The site's caution is indicative of a broader move toward explicit legality inside the underground online music world, as sites from Napster to align themselves with the old-world record labels in efforts to stem a tide of copyright lawsuits and develop sustainable business models.

The action of Ballantyne, whose site has been operating since April, follows higher-profile battles over the rights to post online copyrighted lyrics or digital sheet music.

One of those fights, focusing on the popular International Lyrics Server, resulted in a technical compromise with Harry Fox, which represents the interests of many music publishers.

Under the system developed by that compromise, many of the lyrics are still available online. But viewers must download a "digital certificate" from Harry Fox that prevents them from copying the lyrics.

Ballantyne said he is beginning negotiations with rights holders and will post the lyrics back online as soon as he is able.