Google is investigating claims it steals lyrics from Genius

The search giant says it will end its partner agreements if it finds that third-party content providers are scraping the web for lyrics.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
3 min read
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Google says it pays music publishers the rights to display their lyrics.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Google has responded to reports that it's stealing lyrics from Genius, explaining how it finds lyrics to show on its search pages. Google conceded its lyrics feature has been "under scrutiny this week," but said it pays music publishers for the rights to display their lyrics.

Reports on the alleged lyrics thefts, which emerged in The Wall Street Journal last week, suggested that Genius can prove lyrics on Google are its own by looking at the apostrophes. Once the apostrophes are converted into Morse Code, they spell out "red handed," CNN added.

Google said Tuesday, in a blog post called "How we help you find lyrics in Google Search," that it ensures songwriters are paid for their lyrics by working with music publishers who manage those rights. However, the tech giant added that publishers often don't have lyrics in digital text copies, so it works with third parties to get access to these.

"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," Google said. "We've asked our lyrics partner to investigate the issue."

Google added that it will soon include third-party attribution on its digital lyrics text.

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Genius provides annotated lyrics and song facts for songs across platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and even YouTube.

While Genius didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, its chief strategy officer, Ben Gross, told The Verge that there is "irrefutable evidence" that Google has been copying Genius lyrics in its Lyrics OneBox. 

"This is a serious issue, and Google needs to address it," Gross reportedly said.

A Google spokesperson added in a statement that the company takes creator rights "very seriously."

"The lyrics displayed in information boxes on Google Search are licensed from a variety of sources and are not scraped from sites on the web," the statement emailed to CNET said. "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 third-party provider, LyricFind, responded to the reports of theft in a blog post Monday.

LyricFind said it "invests heavily" in its own global content team to build a lyric database using text from artists, publishers and songwriters, which then works to stream, correct and synchronize the data.

"Some time ago, Ben Gross from Genius notified LyricFind that they believed they were seeing Genius lyrics in LyricFind's database. As a courtesy to Genius, our content team was instructed not to consult Genius as a source," LyricFind said. "Recently, Genius raised the issue again and provided a few examples. All of those examples were also available on many other lyric sites and services, raising the possibility that our team unknowingly sourced Genius lyrics from another location."

LyricFind said it offered to remove lyrics that Genius said were stolen, but that Genius didn't respond to the offer.

"Despite that, our team is currently investigating the content in our database and removing any lyrics that seem to have originated from Genius," LyricFind said.

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