If you search for a song in Google, you’ll often find that the lyrics appear in a box out before you even click on a link. Now a popular lyrics website has accused the search engine of scraping its own pages for that information, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The site in question is Genius, and it claims it has proof: a kind of watermark hidden in its use of apostrophes. Apparently, the site alternates between straight and curved apostrophes (neatly spelling out the word “red handed” in Morse code), as a way of catching other sites lifting its content. It just probably didn’t expect to be using this as evidence against Google.
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For its part, Google denies any wrongdoing, claiming that the lyric panels come from partners – the implication being that if anyone is pilfering lyrics, it’s the sites Google works with. “The lyrics displayed in the information boxes and in Knowledge Panels on Google Search are licensed from a variety of sources and are not scraped from sites on the web,” the company said in a statement.
“We take data quality and creator rights very seriously, and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement. 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.”
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While it’s a bad look for Google and any site it sources lyrics from, any formal action may not get very far, simply because the lyrics are the work of musicians, merely transcribed and displayed by Genius.
But even if Genius itself doesn’t benefit from this, Google could still suffer. The company is facing an antitrust investigation from the EU and could well come under similar scrutiny in the US soon and anything that suggests anticompetitive practices isn’t going to help potential cases.