Lyrics annotation service Genius.com has accused Google of scraping its site and stealing its content, the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. However, a lyrics data provider at the center of the controversy claimed on Monday that those allegations were without merit.
The Journal reported that Genius had been complaining to Google about the alleged theft for some time, with Google consistently denying the allegations. To prove its point, Genius proceeded to alter lyrics hosted on its site with a variety of different apostrophes.
The company alternated between apostrophe styles in a frequency that allowed it to embed a secret morse code message into the text. The message in question: “Red handed.” Soon after, the modified lyrics, complete with the hidden message, showed up on Google.com, according to Genius.
In response to the report, Google denied any scraping on its part, and instead said that it was getting song lyrics from a variety of legal sources. “We take data quality and creator rights very seriously, and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement,” the company added in a statement. “We’re investigating this issue with our data partners and if we find that partners are not upholding good practices we will end our agreements.”
One of the sources singled out in reports on the controversy is LyricFind, a Canada-based lyric licensing service that works with 4,000 publishers, including all of the majors. On Monday, LyricFind published a lengthy response to the Wall Street Journal story, accusing the paper of repeating inaccurate claims by Genius.
“The lyrics in question were provided to Google by LyricFind, as was confirmed to WSJ prior to publication,” LyricFind wrote in its statement. “Google licenses lyrics content from music publishers (the rightful owner of the lyrics) and from LyricFind. To accuse them of any wrongdoing is extremely misleading.”
LyricFind said that it had been contacted by Genius in the past, and offered to remove any content that the company took issue with — but that Genius didn’t respond to this offer. The company also aimed to put Genius’ claims in perspective:
“Genius claims, and the WSJ repeated, that there are 100 lyrics from Genius in our database. To put this into perspective, our database currently contains nearly 1.5 million lyrics,” it wrote. “The scale of Genius’ claims is minuscule and clearly not systemic.”
If anything, the conflict goes to show how messy the world of music metadata can be. Genius based its allegations in part on lyrics for a song from New York-based rapper Desiigner. Since the lyrics for Desiigner’s hit song “Panda” were hard to understand, Genius asked the rapper himself for help. Those same lyrics, transcribed by Desiigner, later allegedly showed up on Google.com, suggesting that Google may have lifted the lyrics from Genius.com.
As convincing as this chain of events may sound, the incident also points to another possible scenario. Many publishers simply don’t have the right lyrics either, which could prompt some of them to take the matter into their own hands, suggested music tech veteran J Herskowitz in a tweet Monday morning:
Here's my uninformed guess on what's going on with Genius/Google: publishers may be scraping Genius themselves (since they often don't get lyrics directly from writers) and delivering that data to the lyric licensors themselves.
— J Herskowitz (@jherskowitz) June 17, 2019