Google Allegedly Caught Stealing Song Lyrics ... Because of Punctuation

You wouldn’t have thought that Google would need to cheat on its homework considering it’s one of the most powerful and well funded companies in the world. Yet it’s been allegedly caught copying song lyrics, its scheme punctured by punctuation.

Credit: Olly Curtis/Future Publishing via Getty Images

(Image credit: Olly Curtis/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Lyrics site Genius has reported dropping traffic since Google introduced its information panel feature for song words in 2014. However, the Wall Street Journal (via The Verge) has today reported that Genius is accusing Google of not only stealing its market share but directly copying content from its pages.

This accusation actually dates back to 2017, when it was made in a private email from Genius to Google. Genius says it first noticed something odd was going on when one of its staff noticed that Google’s lyrics for Desiigner’s song Panda matched Genius’ own exactly, despite Desiigner exclusively posting the official lyrics of the complex rap song to Genius first.

A second letter was sent in April 2019, a copy of which was viewed by the WSJ and formed the basis for the current story.

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The evidence Genius gives to show that Google is scraping its lyrics is in the form of apostrophes. In 2016 it introduced a system of alternating apostrophes (‘, or U+0027 in Unicode, the dominant form of text processing on the Internet ) with single quotation marks (’, or U+2019). Every song features the same sequence of swapping between the two subtly different marks, which spells out ‘red handed’ when you translate it into Morse code.

Google said in a statement to the WSJ that it didn’t make the lyrics panels itself, but rather licensed the content from other companies, such as LyricFind, who it partnered with in 2016. LyricFind also claims not to have stolen content from Genius, instead using its own team to source song lyrics.

Genius' claims, though, are tainted by a bit of hypocrisy. Back when Genius was RapGenius, it was accused of using sketchy SEO tricks and lifting lyrics from the site OHHLA. This theft so widely known that it even became a joke in articles about lyrics.

Considering the looming threat of an antitrust investigation into Google, the damage that the company is allegedly causing by both copying lyrics and then placing them on the search page before results for rival sites isn't going to go down well with investigators. We’ll have to wait and see if these accusations can be proved or disproved definitively, but for the moment, it’s a very bad look for Google.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.