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Music Sheet

Has Google been caught ‘red handed’ in song lyric theft?

Music Sheet

Has Google been caught ‘red handed’ in song lyric theft?

A song lyrics website is claiming that Google is stealing its content, and believes it has come up with a clever way to prove it.

Since 2014, Google has been providing lyrics to songs within its search results, sometimes including links to buy the song or album via the Google Play store. This is another example of Google’s ‘position zero’ results and means it’s often not necessary to click through to lyrics sites themselves.

While this may be convenient for users, it doesn’t sit well with some webmasters who believe they are missing out on traffic as a result. In fact, one song lyrics website, Genius.com, has accused Google of scraping lyrics from the site.

Lyrics and the internet

It’s hard to believe that there was once a time when if you wanted to know the lyrics to a song, you had to either listen very carefully, or buy the record and hope the words to the songs were printed in the sleeve.

Even then, not all albums came with lyrics (the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is often said to have been the first), and this led to many oldies clinging on to misheard lyrics for years. Jimi Hendrix’s “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” (instead of “kiss the sky”) is a classic example.

Today, it’s very easy to find the lyrics to any reasonably popular song online, and in fact the very first time I used the internet in my teens, the first thing I did was search for the lyrics to my favourite songs. In recent years, Google has made it an even more instant process by presenting lyrics straight to you when you search for them.

Screen Shot 2019 06 18 at 14.27.58

Unlike with its usual Snippets, though, the lyrics don’t contain a link to the source they came from – they just credit the songwriters and the copyright holder, so where is Google getting them? Genius is claiming they’re straight from its website.

Is Genius living up to its name?

You might be wondering how on Earth a particular lyrics site can know it had its content scraped from it. After all, Genius didn’t write the lyrics – it’s just a resource for them, and not the only one on the web, so why the persecution complex?

First of all, we should note that Genius has suspected Google of copying for three years now. In 2016, Genius noticed that Google had the same version of the words for a song as it did, even though the artist had personally provided the lyrics to Genius.

Now, and this is the really clever bit, Genius says it has been alternating between curly and straight apostrophes in song lyrics. It’s not clear whether this is the case for all songs or just a select few, but when converted to Morse code, they spell out the phrase “red handed” – something Google will have been if it has copied them.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, and even if the allegations are correct, it could be questioned to what extent Genius can claim it has the rights to the lyrics written by someone else.


UPDATE 20/6/19: We’ve noticed this afternoon that Google IS now giving a source (LyricFind) for song lyrics. This has only become the case in the last day or two, since the news of Genius’ claims broke.

Below is a screenshot of the same song lyrics taken today.

Screen Shot 2019 06 20 at 12.43.19

John Murray

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