Popular Music Website Accuses Google of Ripping Off Its Content

The website Genius is battling technology giant Google over Google’s use of song lyrics that Genius says are being pulled directly from its site. “Over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius,” Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, told The Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported that the company said two types of apostrophes used in the lyrics it publishes, when converted to Morse code, spelled out “Red Handed.”

For Genius, the issue is vital to its survival. If Google publishes lyrics that reduce traffic to Genius, Genius eventually loses ad revenue and withers away. Writing for the website Slate, April Glaser put the issue into perspective. “There’s a reason to find all of this worrisome, even if it may seem like a niche web-traffic matter,” Glaser wrote. “Instead of an internet where sites link to each other, creating a vast global network of information, Google is vacuuming up more and more of the web onto its turf.” She said, “Now, more and more, the internet is just Google plus Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and a handful of other platforms and stores that dominate the vast, vast majority of web traffic — and in many cases digital advertising, too.” Genius has called upon Google to stop, saying its actions violate antitrust law. “This is a serious issue, and Google needs to address it,” Gross said in a statement to The Verge.

Google and its partners denied any wrongdoing. In responding to The Journal’s article, Google said the issue should be taken up with the partners that provide the material to Google. “We take data quality and creator rights very seriously and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement,” the company said.

In a follow-up statement, Google said it would end agreements with any partners “not upholding good practices.” The tech giant deals with LyricFind, a Canadian company, which said in a statement it gets lyrics on its own and not from Genius. The Journal reported that Genius has been worried about lyric theft since 2016, when Google published the lyrics of the song “Panda” by rapper Desiigner. “We noticed that Google’s lyrics matched our lyrics down to the character,” Gross said. That was suspicious because Genius got them directly from Desiigner.

Daphne Keller, who studies the regulation of technology platforms at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, told The Journal that Genius might not have much of a legal case because it doesn’t hold the copyright to the lyrics. “But it’s totally understandable why they don’t want this happening, and I imagine Google doesn’t want it happening either,” she said.