Genius Accuses Google of Displaying Copied Lyrics: 'It's Clearly Unfair and Anticompetitive'

Lyrics website Genius Media has a bone to pick with Google over the lyric cards that appear right above their site in search results. The Brooklyn-based company has accused the tech giant of hosting lyrics that were copy and pasted from its site, saying they've flagged over 100 instances where their version of lyrics were found.

How does one lift lyrics they didn't write? Genius deploys a watermark of sorts for many of its entries, wherein it will alternate between smart/curly (’) and straight apostrophes (') throughout the lyrics. According to the report, the pattern of smart/straight is done in such a way to spell out "red handed" in Morse code.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Genius first alerted Google to the alleged misuse back in 2017. Ben Gross, Genius's chief strategy officer, said in a statement to Billboard that "Google knowingly displays lyrics that are copied from Genius in search results in order to keep users from leaving Google to go to other sites. They have known about this for two years and it’s clearly unfair and anticompetitive."

In a statement to Engadget, Google said it sources out the job of populating the lyric areas to a "variety" of partners and will hold them accountable if it's found they are not "upholding good practices" in the collection and publication of the content.

"The lyrics displayed in the information boxes and in Knowledge Panels on Google Search are licensed from a variety of sources and are not scraped from sites on the web," the company said. "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."

One of Google's partners, LyricFind, has denied that it knowingly lifted lyrics from Genius for the content it provides to the search giant. After Gross voiced his complaints to the company in 2017, LyricFind says it instructed its content team not to consult Genius as a source "as a courtesy," and eventually offered to remove the lyrics in question.

"Genius declined to respond to that offer," the statement continues. "Despite that, our team is currently investigating the content in our database and removing any lyrics that seem to have originated from Genius."

LyricFind mentions that the examples provided by Gross were also available on other lyrics sites, "raising the possibility that our team unknowingly sourced Genius lyrics from another location," and points out that the roughly 100 lyrics at issue are a fraction of its total offering. 

"To put this into perspective, our database currently contains nearly 1.5 million lyrics," LyricFind writes. "In the last year alone, our content team created approximately 100,000 new lyric files. The scale of Genius’ claims is minuscule and clearly not systemic."

Genius does not own the lyrics on its website, but is fully licensed with major publishers to display them across its properties. The dispute with Google does not pertain to one key element of Genius' platform that it does own: the annotations of those lyrics, containing context and other original information.

Traffic to Genius.com has decreased since Google began surfacing lyrics atop its search results in most cases. A user would have to scroll down, where it would find results from Genius and its competitors, including Songfacts.com, AZLyrics.com and MetroLyrics.com. Genius' view is that the lyrics directly inside search results, especially those allegedly lifted from its site, are anticompetitive in nature.

A representative from Google did not immediately respond to a request for further comment on the controversy.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include LyricFind's statement.