Lyric website Genius (formerly known as Rap Genius) has caught Google stealing their song transcripts.
For those out of the loop, Genius displays lyrics to songs with annotations that explain the references or wordplay that the artist is using. The analysis and transcription of lyrics on Genius have proven to be a useful resource for music fans in the internet age, especially when it comes to lyrically-dense genres like hip-hop.
The site is also famous for its “Verified” series on YouTube, in which the trendiest artists of the moment break down their lyrics and how they wrote their songs.
We know what you might be thinking: “How could Google steal lyrics from Genius when they’re just lyrics? Genius doesn’t own them.”
Genius actually works with artists and record labels to get 100% accurate lyrics and analysis. These official lyrics are then shared on Genius’ website, in addition to being built into popular streaming apps like Spotify. Genius has a special license with the National Music Publishers Association to host these copyrighted lyrics on their site.
When companies like Google lift these lyrics straight from Genius they are publishing official copyrighted content without having to go through the legal hoops and licensing fees that come with working with record labels, in addition to straight up stealing site revenue from Genius.
The way that Genius confirmed that Google was stealing lyrics from them was nothing short of ingenious. It all began back in 2016, when Desiigner’s smash hit “Panda” was dominating the charts. Desiigner’s lyrics are infamously difficult to understand, so Genius reached out to the rapper to get 100% accurate lyrics.
Soon after publishing the lyrics online, Genius noticed that their perfect transcription was being shown on Google. Genius knew that Google had lifted the lyrics, but in order to catch them in the act, they came up with a clever trap.
From that point on, Genius began alternating the types of apostrophes it was using in its lyrics between curly and straight. This subtle and seemingly random alteration was actually Morse code, spelling out “red-handed” in every song. Though they haven’t taken any legal action (yet), Genius considers Google’s actions to be extremely anticompetitive.
A Google spokesperson said that they take data rights very seriously and that they don’t source lyrics from Genius. This story broke at the worst possible time for Google, as the tech giant is likely facing an investigation by the U.S. government for antitrust violations.