What you need to know

  • Genius Media says some of the song lyrics displayed in Google's information boxes are lifted directly from its website.
  • To catch Google "red-handed", Genius developed a watermarking system with two types of apostrophes within the song lyrics.
  • Google is investigating the issue currently and has clarified that lyrics displayed in information boxes are not copied from other websites.

In December 2014, Google rolled out a new feature that allowed users to view the lyrics of a song that they searched for directly above the search results. The feature was aimed at helping users find exactly what they are looking for without having to go through multiple search results. According to a report published by The Wall Street Journal, Google has been accused of stealing song lyrics by Genius Media Group. The accusation comes just two weeks after it was reported that the Justice Department is planning an antitrust investigation of Google.

Genius has alleged that Google has been lifting lyrics directly from its website for several years now. The company apparently notified Google about the issue back in 2017, warning the Mountain View-based company that the reuse of transcription from the Genius website violates the antitrust law.

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It says that it decided to use a watermarking system in the lyrics published on its website with the help of patterns in the formatting of apostrophes. When translated to Morse code, they spell out "Red Handed." Thanks to the unique watermarking system, the company found more than 100 song lyrics on Google scraped directly from its website.

Responding to the accusation, Google said that it does not create the lyrics displayed in "information boxes" above search results. They are instead licensed from various partners. The Mountain View-based company further said that it is currently investigating the issue and will end agreements with partners "not upholding good practices." LyricFind, which signed a multi-year licensing deal with Google in 2016 to display song lyrics in search results, has also denied sourcing lyrics from Genius.

According to data from Jumpshot, a web analytics firm, nearly 62% of mobile searches on Google in March did not result in a user clicking on a search result. With its "information boxes", Google is trying to provide services to users directly instead of referring them to other websites. This has resulted in a sharp decline in traffic for many companies. On desktop, nearly 35% of searches on Google end up without a user clicking on another website.

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