Earlier this week a lyrics website called Genius accused Google of stealing lyrics text from its website to display in Google Search results when users search for lyrics for a particular song. Google is now attempting to smooth over those theft accusations by explaining a little more in detail how and where the text for those lyrics comes from.
According to Google, the lyrics officially come from third-party companies which source the lyrics from music publishers on behalf of the music artists that write those songs. While publishers hold the rights to lyrics on behalf of artists, Google states that in many or most cases publishers won't have digital copies of the lyrics on-hand, which is where the third-party companies come in.
Google's expanding effort to display more and more lyrics in Search panels on its website is like all things it now wants to show you through Search. It's a means to an end which is providing users with the information that they're looking for as fast as possible so that more time can be spent on other things.
Google has acknowledged that its practices in how it obtains lyrics text has been under scrutiny over the past couple of days, and in addition to trying to explain its process, Google states that it will make every effort to display a credit of where the lyric text is coming from so there's little to no confusion. Google is doing this for clarity, but also to likely protect itself moving forward.
The issue according to Genius is that, based on the accusations, Google has been doing this for a few years now which has caused the company to lose web traffic and in turn has likely turned into a loss of profits as a result of that slowing traffic.
Genius says that once it noticed Google was lifting lyrics from its website that it began to put measures in place which would allow it to try and catch Google in the act. These methods included changing little bits of the lyrics. Specifically, changing the apostrophes to make up a message that could be interpreted through Morse code.
This isn't exactly proof that would hold up in court, even if it were/is true, and the bigger issue is that if Google did get lyrics from Genius, even if only through a third-party website who did the actual lifting, the rights to the lyrics belong to the artist with those rights being managed by publishers, so there's likely no real grounds for Genius to take the issue and turn it into a legal matter.
With no legal grounds to stand on what recourse does Genius have in the event that its loss of web traffic is a direct result of lyrics text being stolen from its website? Probably none, and that's a bigger issue for not just Genius but any smaller websites that rely on web traffic that come to find content which could end up in Google Search.
At first glance it seems that Google is simply cannibalizing content from other sites. Even if Google is completely in the clear on such matters, accusations like these ones from Genius wade freely into murky, non-competitive practice waters at a time when Google is already facing down potential probes from the US Government over antitrust practices, and this wouldn't be Google's first rodeo in this regard.
At best, Genius may simply be wrong about the lyrics text being stolen, and at worst the lyrics text could have been stolen by a third-party source that Google grabs the lyrics text from, with Google having knowledge of the goings-on and sourcing the content in Search panels anyways. Neither scenario is really a good one, especially with how large of a company Google is and how deep its pockets are.
Google states that it strives to uphold high standards of conduct for its partners as well as itself, and perhaps in the coming days more information will come to light about this particular situation. In the meantime it seems Google is prepared to simply list the credits of where the lyrics text is sourced from, which seems like a sort of band-aid for a larger problem.