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Genius accuses Google in row over lyrics in search engine


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Lyrics-focused site Genius and Google are embroiled in a row over the alleged copying of lyrics – a row that looks set to suck in LyricFind and other companies in this space who have partnered with Google to provide content for its search results.

Genius told the Wall Street Journal that it has proof that some of the lyrics being served up by Google in its ‘OneBox’ card within search results have been lifted directly from its service. The proof is certainly inventive: Genius used alternating straight and curved apostrophes in its lyrics which, when converted into Morse code, spell out ‘Red Handed’. If that combination of apostrophes appears elsewhere, it knows something rum is afoot.

Genius’ chief strategy officer Ben Gross told The Verge that his company “has shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius in their Lyrics OneBox. This is a serious issue, and Google needs to address it”. Genius says it has found more than 100 examples of this happening so far.

Engadget has Google’s full statement in response, noting that the lyrics shown in its search engine are “licensed from a variety of sources and are not scraped from sites on the web: we take data quality and creator rights very seriously, and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement. We’re investigating this issue with our data partners and if we find that partners are not upholding good practices we will end our agreements.”

LyricFind is one of those partners, although CEO Darryl Ballantine told the Wall Street Journal that “we do not source lyrics from Genius”. All the companies involved will be working overtime this week to understand what’s happened and who’s responsible. There are potential competition issues here, because Genius also says that its traffic has been dropping since Google started doing more with lyrics in its search engine.

Potential competition issues, but not copyright issues. Genius doesn’t own the lyrics: it licenses them from the music rightsholders, regardless of how it reproduces their apostrophes. The row does not concern Genius’ directory of annotations for lyrics (which *are* original material) but rather just the lyrics that Google (through its own licensing deals and partnerships) already has the rights to use – this Twitter thread offers more discussion on these points.

Even so, Genius’ anger is understandable, and identifying what happened and who was responsible will be a priority for Google and its lyrics partners.

Stuart Dredge

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