Copyright dispute between Google and Genius about lyric scraping

Print this page 19-06-2019
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Wired.com: "Over the weekend, the music annotation site Genius publicly accused search juggernaut Google of stealing its crowdsourced song transcripts and natively publishing them on its search pages in knowledge panels Google calls its “One Box.” Doing so, Genius alleges, hurts Genius’ bottom line by diverting traffic away from Genius in favor of keeping people on Google’s monetized search page instead. As Genius sees it, this is an example not just of lyric lifting but of Google using its scale to unfairly home in on a smaller competitor’s territory, which experts say could constitute a potential antitrust matter. Google strongly denies all of it, blaming a contractor for any similarity between its lyrics and Genius’.

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The engineering team at Genius has been keeping track of what appears on Google lyrics One Boxes since last October, scraping and caching hundreds of Google song lyrics results every day. So they went and looked back at the daily caches to see when the watermark disappeared. They found that the watermark had been present on all the sample lyrics until June 12, and then it disappeared on June 13. WIRED examined the HTML of a random selection of these cached pages, and they do appear to show the watermark present until June 12. Though the WSJ story published on June 16, Genius says it had been in contact with WSJ reporters before June 12, raising the possibility that the watermark was scrubbed after being reached for comment by journalists.

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So is the watermark disappearing proof that someone was trying to cover their tracks, as Genius suggests, or that LyricFind was actually removing Genius-sourced lyrics from its database, as its CEO seems to be suggesting? It’s unclear.

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And the watermark disappearing on Google pages doesn’t change the fact that Genius appears to be right: Its lyrics seem to have been copied and pasted all over the web. But the thing is, as icky as that is, it’s not illegal. Genius doesn’t hold the copyright to these transcripts. The publishers and songwriters do. No matter how much work Genius or its community puts into compiling the lyrics into text, the song lyrics still don’t belong to them. Rather, they license them and print them with permission.

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Even if Genius has no copyright claim here, Google or its contractors copying from Genius still might be unfair from a competition standpoint. “It’s still potentially an antitrust problem if Google is using its search monopoly to enter some unrelated market and tie that product to the search engine in a way that gives it a huge advantage over competitors,” Bergmayer says.

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The harm there is clear: Whether those lyrics are taken from Genius or not, by not sending people over to Genius, Genius loses out on the chance to get people more involved in their community and to sell ads against its traffic numbers."

 

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