Google will cite where its song lyrics come from following Genius dispute

Google today responded to an ongoing controversy involving lyrics provider and annotator Genius Media, which has accused Google of copying its song lyrics and reposting them as part of a feature in its search engine.

Now, Google is claiming it receives all of its song lyrics through third-party providers, and its asked the provider in question, LyricFind, to “investigate the issue to ensure that they’re following industry best practices in their approach.” Google says it will also now publicly cite the lyrics provider it’s using when it surfaces song lyrics in search results.

The dispute stems from a practice Genius began around 2016 to find out which lyric providers may be copying its song lyrics without credit. Genius first establishes contracts with music publishers to repost song lyrics on its website, because song lyrics are copyrighted property and cannot be reposted without paying songwriters. The company then makes money by providing its lyrics and annotations of the lyrics — to explain backstories, context, and hidden meanings — to companies like Spotify.

Genius theorized that other companies were copying its lyrics, so it began watermarking them by using a special formatting sequence for apostrophes. The company claims that Google, in posting lyrics of its own right in search results, is cutting into its ad business, and it came forward with proof it provided to The Wall Street Journal. “We noticed that Google’s lyrics matched our lyrics down to the character,” Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, told the WSJ.

LyricFind, which Google entered into partnership with in 2016 to source lyrics for search results, claims it does not take lyrics from Genius, but instead pays music publishers for rights to use the lyrics and creates its own database that it checks against other lyrics sites. So LyricFind may have unknowingly used Genius lyrics, but it’s not saying it did so on purpose.

Whatever the truth of the situation, Google is essentially saying it has nothing to do with the alleged theft. So if any lyric providers in the future take issue with song data providing in search results, Google is going to point them in the direction the company it sources those lyrics from.