Genius accuses Google of stealing song lyrics

Apostrophes catch Google 'red handed'

By Jordan Valinsky, CNN Business
From Google via CNN

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Music-annotation website Genius is accusing Google of stealing lyrics from its website and publishing them in search results.

Genius is a Brooklyn-based company that transcribes and analyzes lyrics from popular songs on its website. It said Google has been stealing the lyrics of some songs for the past few years, thus breaking Genius' terms of service and siphoning off traffic.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, said that a Genius employee noticed the first instance in 2016. Rapper Desiigner's song "Panda" had hard-to-decipher lyrics. So, the company had the rapper transcribe the song for them -- and then Genius saw their version being displayed on Google.

To show that Google was allegedly doing this, developers at Genius alternated the lyrics' apostrophes between straight and curly styles in a targeted way: When the apostrophes were converted into Morse code, it spelled out the phrase "red handed," the newspaper said. Genius said it notified Google first in 2017 and as recently as April about the practice.

Genius partners with record labels and artists to correctly annotate their songs. It also makes money through partnerships with companies like Spotify, which displays Genius annotations on some songs in the app.

Genius' Chief Strategy Officer Ben Gross told CNN Business in a statement that Google displays lyrics from Genius' website in "order to keep users from leaving Google to go to other sites." He said the practice is "clearly unfair and anticompetitive."

Genius' accusation comes as Google is bracing for the US government to launch a possible antitrust probe and examine its business practices. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently told CNN Business that he's not surprised about that possible investigation.

A Google spokesperson said that it takes it takes creator rights "very seriously" and is investigating the accusations.

"The lyrics displayed in information boxes on Google Search are licensed from a variety of sources and are not scraped from sites on the web," the company told CNN Business. "We take data quality and creator rights very seriously, and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement."

Google says it sources lyrics from a Canadian company called LyricFind. The company told the newspaper it doesn't source lyrics from Genius. LyricFind didn't immediately reply for comment.

There's no formal legal complaint from Genius against Google. New York University law professor Christopher Jon Sprigman told CNN Business he's unsure if a lawsuit could stand. The lyrics belong to the record labels and artists, not to Genius, he noted, so "it doesn't make any sense" for Genius to sue.

The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.