Engineering Manager | Trail Runner | Stockholm, Sweden

LyricWiki API crippled

Listening to Lily Allen’s snarky lyrics I wanted to check the finer details so I pulled up the Dashboard to have a look at Harmonic, a widget that automatically downloads song lyrics in the background for iTunes. Little did I know…


Sean Colombo of explains it on the API developer page:

Dear LyricWiki API Developers,

It has been a great run, and I have seen some fantastic and interesting applications come from all of your skills and hard work.

Unfortunately, licensing agreements with the biggest publishers in the music industry require us to no longer offer the ability for programmatic access to LyricWiki’s collection of lyrics. We tried to arrange some way to let API Developers license through us, but this was not possible.

While this is not something we are happy about, it is a necessity in order to finally secure licensing for LyricWiki from the major publishers which will allow the project to survive indefinitely.

Actually this is nothing new. Infuriated by their inability to stop song downloading labels decided to broaden their scope of legal threats and started to take measures against sheet music and lyrics sites: Song sites face legal crackdown, reported the BBC in December, 2005.

One of the victims was pearLyrics, an automated lyrics searching application that offered a very similar service to Harmonic. The programmer of pearLyrics had to take the software down due to legal threats. MPA president Lauren Keiser went as far as actually wanting website owners jailed:

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can “throw in some jail time I think we’ll be a little more effective”.

Now almost four years later the situation didn’t seem to improve much. LyricWiki content is created entirely by users who take the time to type lyrics in from album leaflets or from listening. The site offers compensation in form of royalties to the owners that contact them. Yet in order to appease the industry even this wasn’t enough.

What bothers me most in the whole story is that there is no alternative. The music industry does not offer lyrics in an electronic format. Granted CD booklets often contain lyrics but why do I have to be the one that types all that in? Not even the music downloaded from iTunes or Amazon has lyrics, even though there is a tag that supports it.

I’m sure millions of lyricists died in starvation at the poorhouse because of Harmonic and lyricWiki.

Now I’m wondering if it would be possible to use the API to identify the lyrics URL then have curl grab the page and apply some regexp to extract the valuable part (the lyrics). Not that I could code it, but I recall a stalking script that created a growl notification from a person’s “listening now” status working quite the same way.


Okay, Harmonic is a great widget for the Mac. It downloads the lyrics for the music you’re listening to in iTunes. Quite nice, since it passes it right to iTunes and it gets saved with the song. Next time you plug your iPod in it even gets transferred to that as well. Now, what’s the problem? Stupid people. Seriously, how bloody hard is it to get right… especially for a native speaker:


For the uninitiated, let me do the honours: your is a personal pronoun denoting possession; you’re is a contraction of you are.

It makes my brain bleed to read lyrics like this:
“Maybe your a sinner into your alternate life, …”
(For a bonus you can tell me the title of the song the line’s from. Google is cheating.)

If people decide to share the lyrics of a song and post it to a site (all lyrics sites have private contributor sources) how on Earth can they be so terribly ignorant as to make basic mistakes like this? How can they not care about what they put out for everyone to see? Aren’t they fans? It truly boggles the mind.

Please, God, make them stop butchering the language…