Genius.com uses clever entrapment technique and accuses Google of stealing song lyrics from its site

Genius.com logo

Ask Google what the lyrics to a particular song are and the chances are that the search results will display them in an info pane as well as links to lyrics sites. But where does Google get these lyrics from? Have Googlers sat and manually transcribed the words to songs ready or when people search for them?

No. Actually, there's a high chance that Google has simply scraped the lyrics from other sites, and one lyrics website says it caught the company red-handed. Genius.com used "Morse code" to catch the company lifting content directly from its lyric database.

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After noticing a drop in traffic in recent years Genius decided to investigate. It came to the conclusion that the lyrics displayed in Google search results were giving people the information that needed, negating the need for them to click through to the site. More than this, it appeared that Google was lifting lyrics directly from Genius.

But how could this be proven? Song lyrics are song lyrics, right?

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Genius implemented a watermarking system. It tweaked the punctuation used in lyrics -- using combinations of straight quotes and curly quotes, for instance -- and waited to see if these unique lyrics appeared in Google search results.

They did.

The WSJ explains:

Starting around 2016, Genius said, the company made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics' apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.

When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words "Red Handed".

Asked about the matter, Google said that the info panel were filled with content from partners rather than being "lifted". The company issued a statement saying:

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. 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.

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