Lady Mondegreen

Jason writes in:  I also thought of you when the lyrics sites started to get sued. I’m of two minds about this one.  Screenplays are protected, right.  So I guess lyrics should be too.  But the lyrics databases fulfill a need.  And I’m glad someone is doing it.

Put me down in the category of people who are, when opening a new CD, dismayed when no lyrics are provided.  I rarely trust my ears, and as my vocal talents are limited, text is a much more portable referent.  While it is clear that, like screenplays, song lyrics are literary works deserving of copyright, it is questionable whether they have artistic merit independent of the resulting song (or film).  Certainly lyricists and screenwriters feel their work has value in of itself, but is that why anyone else values it?  To my mind, no amount of "unlicensed" lyrics are going to approximate the effect of hearing the songs for which they were written; they will only make me want to listen to the songs again.  Public lyric registries, like screenplay libraries and repositories of fan fiction, only increase the value of the original artists’ work.

Then there’s the corollary issue of the "accuracy" of published lyrics and shooting scripts.  Even leaving aside the thorny problem of non-studio-recorded performances, even in studio recordings a singer will often modify (slightly or not so slightly) the words from the published lyrics.  Which is the "true" lyric?  Which has more meaning for the listener?  Which is protected by copyright?  Screenplays are in a similarly ambiguous state, particularly as so much more information (camera angles, scene descriptions) is subject to "corruption."

Of course, we simply have to get used to the idea that such works are no longer fixed but evolving (if agonizingly slow in certain cases).  It’s been about 20 years since I first noticed "unseen" footage in a film re-edited for television broadcast, and not long after that I saw my first cinematic "restoration" or "director’s cut."  When DVDs first came out, I quickly predicted the dissolution of the notion of "canonical" screenplays and even finished films; directors could now cut one film for theatrical release and another (or more) for the DVD.  Were there Elves at Helm’s Deep or not?  You be the judge, then RESUME FILM.

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