Earlier this week, music lyrics repository Genius accused Google of lifting lyrics and posting them on its search platform. Genius told the Wall Street Journal that this caused its site traffic to drop. Google, which initially denied wrongdoing but later said it was investigating the issue, addressed the controversy in a blog post today. The company said it will start including attribution to its third-party partners that provide lyrics in its information boxes.
When Google was first approached by the Wall Street Journal, it told the newspaper that the lyrics it displays are licensed by partners and not created by Google. But some of the lyrics (which are displayed in information boxes or cards called “Knowledge Panels” at the top of search results for songs) included Genius’ Morse code-based watermarking system. Genius said that over the past two years it repeatedly contacted Google about the issue. In one letter, sent in April, Genius told Google it was not only breaking the site’s terms of service, but also violating antitrust law—a serious allegation at a time when Google and other big tech companies are facing antitrust investigations by government regulators.
After the WSJ article was first published, Google released a statement that said it was investigating the problem and would stop working with lyric providers who are “not upholding good practices.”
In today’s blog post, Satyajeet Salgar, a group product manager at Google Search, wrote that the company pays “music publishers for the right to display lyrics, since they manage the rights to these lyrics on behalf of songwriters.” Because many music publishers license lyrics text from third-party lyric content providers, Google works with those companies.
“We do not crawl or scrape websites to source these lyrics. The lyrics you see in information boxes on Search come directly from lyrics content providers, and they are updated automatically as we receive new lyrics and corrections on a regular basis,” Salgar added.
These partners include LyricFind, which Google has had an agreement with since 2016. LyricFind’s chief executive told the WSJ that it does not source lyrics from Genius.
While Salgar’s post did not name any companies, he addressed the controversy by writing “news reports this week suggested that one of our lyrics content providers is in a dispute with a lyrics site about where their written lyrics come from. We’ve asked our partner to investigate the issue to ensure that they’re following industry best practices in their approach.”
In the future, Google will start including attribution to the company that provided the lyrics in its search results. “We will continue to take an approach that respects and compensates rights-holders, and ensures that music publishers and songwriters are paid for their work,” Salgar wrote.
Genius, which launched as Rap Genius in 2009, has been at loggerheads with Google before. In 2013, a SEO trick Rap Genius used to place itself higher in search results ran afoul of Google’s web spam team. Google retaliated by burying Rap Genius links under pages of other search results. The conflict was resolved after less than two weeks, but during that time Rap Genius’ traffic plummeted dramatically.