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Genius Catches Google “Red Handed” in Stealing Website’s Lyrics

Genius Media Group Inc. is accusing Google of using its lyrics without permission in their “information panels” (the first box that appears with condensed information when you make a Google search).

If you have ever been on Spotify, Apple Music, or even just looked up song lyrics online, you have probably heard of Genius.

The company claims that you have also been able to find their lyrics on Google’s search results page since 2016, in violation of their terms of the agreement and antitrust law. Google, of course, has denied any wrongdoing, but Genius created a method to catch the search engine in the act.

The History

Genius first started collecting evidence that their lyrics were appearing in Google’s information panels back in 2016. One of their employees came across the lyrics to the song “Panda” by rapper Desiigner on Google’s search results page in an information panel. Desiigner’s lyrics are famously difficult to decipher, but Genius had gotten him to send them his exact lyrics. The employee became suspicious when he noticed Google’s lyrics were an exact match to the ones on Genius’ site.

Genius first warned Google of the infringement in 2017. This April they sent a letter letting Google know that they had over 100 examples of their lyrics being used in Google’s panels.

How did Genius Confirm the Stolen Lyrics?

Genius embedded a secret code in their lyrics that looked like nothing but little blips to the average person. They used a sequence of apostrophes, either straight or curved, that translated into the dashes and dots of Morse code to write out: “Red Handed.”

Of the 100 examples, Genius found of their code appearing in Google’s published lyrics, three were tested and confirmed by The Wall Street Journal, who broke this story. They created a video showing how to do the test.

Genius’ Complaints

Genius’ website traffic has been on a steady decrease over the years, and they blame it on sites like Google publishing their lyrics without permission. When people searching for song lyrics find them as the first item to pop up in their search, they are not likely to then click through to another website for the same thing.

Genius is not the only website to have experienced this decline in click-throughs, especially over mobile devices. Jumpshot Inc. is a marketing research company that published findings in March revealing 62% of Google searches performed on mobile devices do not result in a click through to another website.

This trend of decreasing click throughs has been going on for years, and will probably continue to do so as long as Google’s information panels keep users from searching through further websites.

Google’s Response

Google has refuted Genius’ claims, saying: “We take data quality and creator rights very seriously and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement.” They claim that they are not the ones supplying content for the information panels; it is the licensing partners.

The partner that provides the search engine’s lyrics is LyricFind. The company’s chief executive, Darryl Ballantyne, has also denied Genius’ allegations.