Media company used an ingenious method to catch Google copying its work "red-handed"



Have you ever done a Google Search for the lyrics to a specific song? A company called Genius Media Group wants you to click the link from Search to its own app. However, as reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journal, Genius is miffed at the Alphabet unit claiming that the traffic to its site is declining because Google is publishing full lyrics to songs right on its own platform. In addition, Genius claims that Google is taking some of the lyrics directly from the Genius website.

Two years ago, and again last April, Genius dispatched letters to Google accusing the company of stealing its own lyric transcriptions. The Journal was able to get a look at the most recent letter, which states that the use of Genius' own transcriptions by Google violates not only its terms of service, but antitrust law as well. Those seem to be fighting words, and inside Google no doubt there was a smug feeling that there was no way any trier of fact could determine whether the tech giant stole Genius' transcriptions. But what Google didn't know was that inside the transcriptions, Genius had placed a code.

Starting in 2016, Genius quietly made a small but important change to some song lyrics on its site; it alternated apostrophes found in these lyrics between straight and curly marks (' and ’) in the same sequence for every song. And the music site had a sense of humor about the whole thing. Converting the two distinctive apostrophe marks into the dots and dashes used in Morse code, the sequence used by Genius spells out "Red Handed" as in, "We've caught you red-handed." Obviously, when this same pattern appeared on lyrics found on Google Search, Google had to concede that Genius' transcriptions were being viewed on Search.

Google got caught copying Genius' lyric transcriptions "red-handed"


Genius first had suspicions about Google Search lyrics back in 2016. Lyric transcriptions for a song called "Panda" from rapper Desiigner had many mistakes on various websites because the words were hard to decipher. But the rapper had worked out a deal with Genius to directly provide the site with the actual lyrics to the song. Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer says, "We noticed that Google’s lyrics (for Panda) matched our lyrics down to the character."


Google said in a statement that the lyrics that appear on "information panels" inside  Google Search are licensed from third-party firms and aren't created by Google. "We take data quality and creator rights very seriously and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement," the search giant claimed in a statement." After the Journal story was published yesterday, Google released a new statement saying that it was investigating the claims made by Genius and would cut ties with the third party lyric suppliers who were not doing the right thing.

A company called LyricFind shook hands with Google back in 2016. LyricFind works out deals with music publishers that allows Google to post song lyrics on its Search app. LyricFind's CEO denies that his company sources transcriptions from Genius, which once again seems to put the blame directly on Google. 


Despite catching Google "red-handed," Genius might not be able to turn its ingenious plan into a court victory. Former Google lawyer Daphne Keller, who now works at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, points out that because Genius doesn't actually own the copyright on any of the songs that would be brought up in court, the company might not be able to prevail in a lawsuit against Google.

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11 Comments

1. sgodsell

Posts: 7368; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

When you actually look up lyrics with Google Search, they actually list the artists and where the lyrics actually came from. So Google is not hiding where they got them from. But like Google said they license the song lyrics and information form 3rd parties. Maybe Google should license some lyrics and song information from genius as well.

2. TBomb

Posts: 1484; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

I go to Genius for all my lyrical needs. I like the idea of the user comments and explaining. I also find that the lyrics are high quality and correct

3. nikhil23

Posts: 442; Member since: Dec 07, 2016

It happens that Google simply outsourced the lyrics from 3rd party providers and they copied lyrics from Genius.com

5. Alan01

Posts: 616; Member since: Mar 21, 2012

Except that the third-party apps deny it. As Doctor Gregory House noted, "Everybody Lies." Regards, Alan

6. slim3bdo

Posts: 173; Member since: Jun 05, 2017

So it ok and believable when 3rd party deny the claim , yet when goolge clearly states it got the lyric from the 3rd party company ; its laying and deceiving . Stop the hypocrisy Alan .

7. blingblingthing

Posts: 963; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

All of them? If I'm not mistaken, alot of the answers the Google Assistant gives are based from vaults of answers from numerous sources. As in, Google isn't calculating an answer, it's displaying a logical answer. E.g. when I Google search for specs for a phone model, I get routed to gsmarena. Ask for the weather, they flash you you weather as reported by their source. So when you search for music, I'd expect Google to be getting this from a specific source.

4. chris2k5

Posts: 249; Member since: Nov 17, 2012

Google should be fined.

8. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1421; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

And why is that? Genius doesn't own the rights to any of the lyrics, which makes it difficult enough to sue Google for displaying them. Add to it that Google has outsourced it on top of that, it'll make it even harder to blame Google directly. The fact that people will copy these lyrics from various sources and setup sites with a collection of lyrics, making it harder still to prove that it came from Genius directly and not through a copy of a copy of a copy that came from Genius. The best they could hope for is some minor financial compensation for lost revenue from ads on the site and that too will be hard to prove in court.

9. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

This is one example of why EU adopted a directive to force Google to pay for snipets: because they steal (directly or indirectly) and, when they don't steal, they impact - negatively - the traffic of the news sites.

10. TBomb

Posts: 1484; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

you don't know if they impact the traffic to a website or not. google makes a call to the site so it probably gets count as a hit. Even in the messages app, when the URL preview gets generated, a hit goes to the URL. So.. yeah... good work detective pikachu.

11. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Of course I know, because we have measuring tools for... I don’t know 15-20 years.

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