The song lyrics platform Genius is suing Google after catching the search giant “red-handed” publishing text cribbed from its website.
The Brooklyn-based firm is seeking at least $50 million in combined damages from Google and LyricFind, the Canadian company that allegedly provided the stolen lyrics placed in information boxes at the top of Google searches.
Genius says its web traffic — a key source of revenue — suffers when such boxes appear above its own webpages in search results.
Google and LyricFind “have been caught red-handed misappropriating content from Genius’s website, which they have exploited — and continue to exploit — for their own financial benefit and to Genius’s financial detriment,” says the Brooklyn Supreme Court complaint filed Tuesday, which also calls the companies’ practices “anticompetitive.”
Genius’s allegations against Google first came to light in June, when the Wall Street Journal detailed how the site concluded its lyrics were being lifted.
Genius created a subtle typographical watermark to check whether lyrics appearing in Google searches were identical to those on Genius’s platform. The test embedded an alternating pattern of “curly” and “straight” apostrophes in the text of lyrics that spells the word “REDHANDED” when translated into Morse code, the lawsuit says.
Genius says it put the watermark on 271 songs for which Google provided information boxes when users searched for lyrics. Some 116 of those, or 43 percent, “showed clear evidence of matching” the pattern, according to the complaint.
Google told Genius that allegedly stolen verses came from LyricFind, which licenses lyrics for display on the internet, the suit says. Google has said it does not scrape websites for lyrics that appear in search results but rather licenses them from third-party companies.
But Genius alleges there was an effort to hide the copying of lyrics after the practice drew bad publicity.
After noticing the apostrophe pattern had disappeared from information boxes, Genius says it devised a new watermark in August using two different space characters that computers, but not humans, can tell apart. The company found that watermark in lyrics boxes that were missing the “REDHANDED” apostrophes, the lawsuit says.
“Google’s knowing placement of lyrics Information Boxes containing content misappropriated from Genius’s website despite Google’s own professed disfavoring of copied content is deceptive and anticompetitive,” Genius says in the complaint.
The suit accuses both Google and LyricFind of violating Genius’s terms of service by copying, selling, distributing or modifying content from its site since at least 2016.
LyricFind CEO Darryl Ballantyne said the company has not been in touch with Genius since June and has not been served with the complaint. “From what we’re reading online, it is completely frivolous and without merit,” Ballantyne said in an email.
In response to the lawsuit, a Google spokeswoman pointed to a June blog post in which the company pledged to note the source of lyrics in its search results.
“We always strive to uphold high standards of conduct for ourselves and from the partners we work with,” group product manager Satyajeet Salgar wrote in the post.