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Genius accuses Google of ripping off its lyrics

By | Published on Monday 17 June 2019


Lyrics platform Genius has accused Google of lifting content off its servers without permission in order to plonk lyrics directly into its own ‘information boxes’ whenever people search for a song.

For websites like Genius, Google providing lyrics upfront in its search engine is somewhat annoying, as it makes people much less likely to click through, even if your site provides extra context and functionality about the songs people are interesting in.

So, presumably Genius was already a bit annoyed with Google once it started adding lyrics to its own site. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, the lyrics company became all the more annoyed once it became convinced that some of the lyrics appearing on the Google search engine were coming from its own database.

How can Genius be so certain? After all, lyrics are lyrics, right? Well, Genius started employing a specific combination of straight and curly apostrophes in some of the lyrics it publishes in order to identify those which have come from its website, and it reckons some of those specific combinations showed up in Google’s information boxes.

Genius has told the WSJ that it first alerted Google to this issue in 2017, following up with another complaint back in April this year. The company’s Chief Strategy Officer Ben Gross says “over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius”.

Google insists that it buys in the lyrics that appear in its information boxes from reputable partners and never just scrapes other websites for lyrical content. It told the WSJ: “We take data quality and creator rights very seriously and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement”.

However, after the Journal’s article on Genius’s Google griping was published, the web giant said that it is now investigating the issues raised by the lyrics site. The search engine added that it would terminate any agreements with the companies that provide it with lyrics if it found they were just nicking their content off another website.

A key partner for Google when it comes to lyrics is LyricFind, which has deals with an assortment of music publishers, aggregating and distributing those partners’ lyrics to businesses that need them. It has already issued a statement saying that all the lyrics in its system are created by its own team, and “we do not source lyrics from Genius”.

Of course, neither Genius nor Google, nor LyricFind for that matter, actually own the copyright in any of the lyrics they distribute and publish, all of them utilising – directly or indirectly – licensing deals from the music publishers. However, each party is understandably protective of its own database and will seek to stop other people from tapping said data without permission.

It’s not the first bust up between Google and Genius. Although last time it was the former doing the griping over what was then called RapGenius. Google said that RapGenius had breached its rules on incentivised reciprocal links and, as a result, it temporarily banished the lyrics site from its search engine.

Given some music publishers were still dissing Genius at the time for not having yet got all its licences in place, it was interesting that Google could banish the site because its marketing rules had been breached, but often argued that de-listing entire websites from its search engine on copyright infringement grounds was unfeasible.