Genius Media Group has accused Google of stealing lyrics published on its site. The site formerly known as Rap Genius has spent the last decade aggregating lyrics from rappers, pop stars, and other musicians, but now claims that Google is using lyrics taken from its platform to populate its search engine results.
According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, Genius has known about the issue since 2017, when executives wrote a letter asking the company not to use lyrics taken from their platform. In a followup letter sent in April, Genius said that using lyrics taken from the platform violates both the company’s terms of service and antitrust law more generally.
“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’ chief strategy officer, told the Wall Street Journal in a statement.
Interestingly enough, the lyrics platform was able to prove that Google had taken content from its site using a watermarking system which alternated between straight and curly single-quote marks in its apostrophes. Genius used this watermarking system to encode the words “Red Handed” into various lyrics in Morse code, which appeared identically in Google’s Knowledge Graph and Information Graph search results.
“We take data quality and creator rights very serious and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement,” Google told the Wall Street Journal in a statement. The company also said that they’ve partnered with other non-Genius organizations like LyricsFind Inc. to secure the rights to lyric content.
It’s also worth noting that Genius does not own the rights to lyrics published on its platform. The site instead licenses lyrics from music publishers, while also allowing user-contributed lyrics to be published on the platform. In 2013, the National Music Publishers Association called the site “blatantly illegal,” filing a series of stern takedown notices against Genius, among other lyrics aggregation sites. Genius was later able to reach a licensing agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing which allowed the company to republish material owned by Sony. The company also struck a deal with Universal Music Publishing Group in 2014.
This isn’t the first time that Google has been caught in the crosshairs for similar offenses. In 2017, the Outline reported that Google’s Knowledge Graph system significantly impacted page views for sites like CelebrityNetWorth.com. A New York Times report from the same year claimed the restaurant reviews site Yelp had been subjected to similar practices, which instead favored Google Maps’ local offerings.
Read the Wall Street Journal‘s full report here.