Genius Media Group filed a lawsuit against Google and LyricFind, a Toronto-based lyrics provider, alleging the companies ripped off song lyrics from Genius. The lawsuit seeks at least $50 million in damages from Google and LyricFind.

“Defendants Google LLC and LyricFind have been caught red-handed misappropriating content from Genius’s website, which they have exploited — and continue to exploit — for their own financial benefit and to Genius’s financial detriment,” according to the lawsuit, filed Dec. 3.

In its lawsuit, Genius said it estimated that approximately 40% of lyrics for new music displayed in Google’s search results feature lyrics “that are being unlawfully misappropriated from Genius’s website.”

According to Genius, which provides a database of annotated lyrics, when the company contacted both Google and LyricFind about the issue, they “assigned blame elsewhere but otherwise continued their unlawful behavior.” The lawsuit accuses the two companies of “unethical and unfair anticompetitive practices” and breach of contact. In addition to monetary damages, Genius is seeking injunctions against Google and LyricFind to bar them from misappropriating its content.

Genius’ beef with Google and LyricFind first got an airing this summer in a Wall Street Journal article describing the company’s grievances.

Google declined to comment on the Genius lawsuit, referring to blog post from June in which it said it licenses lyrics content from third-party providers.

“We do not crawl or scrape websites to source these lyrics,” Google group product manager for search Satyajeet Salgar wrote in the post. “The lyrics that 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.”

In its own blog post about the spat, LyricFind said the allegedly purloined lyrics were also available on other lyric sites and services, “raising the possibility that our team unknowingly sourced Genius lyrics from another location.” According to LyricFind, it offered to remove “any lyrics Genius felt had originated from them, even though we did not source them from Genius’ site” but that Genius declined to respond to the offer.

LyricFind also pointed out that “Genius themselves have no ownership of the lyric rights — music publishers and songwriters do.”

As described in its lawsuit, Genius altered the lyrics on its site with a “watermarking” technique that replaced the apostrophes in a selection of newly released songs with a pattern of curly and straight apostrophes that spelled out “red-handed” in Morse code. About 43% of the modified lyrics, including the hidden message, subsequently showed up in Google searches from October-December 2018, according to Genius. After the Journal article was published, Google stopped surfacing lyrics with Genius’s original watermark, according to the lawsuit. But then Genius devised a second watermark in August 2019 to spell out the word “genius” in Morse code — and, according to the company, Google search results continued to include lyrics with the Genius-coded text.

Brooklyn-based Genius filed the lawsuit Tuesday (Dec. 3) in New York State Supreme Court in Kings County.

Founded in 2009, Genius has developed and maintains repository of annotated music lyrics, some of which are provided by artists and many of which are transcribed and edited by a community of over 2 million contributors.

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