Google Beats $50 Million Lawsuit by Genius Over Scraping Song Lyrics

Google, in June of 2019, claimed in a blog post that it sources song lyrics and claimed that it does not scrape or crawl websites.

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Google Beats $50 Million Lawsuit by Genius Over Scraping Song Lyrics

The ruling was given in favour of Google by a federal judge

Highlights
  • The lawsuit against Google by Genius has been dismissed
  • A federal judge said Genius does not own the lyrics
  • Google was still found to be scraping lyrics from Genius

Google has beat the lawsuit for $50 million (roughly Rs. 373.9 crores) by Genius, a lyrics transcription site that was filed in December last year. Genius claimed that Google was scraping lyrics from its website — and proved the same by hiding a watermark in Morse code into the lyrics, which showed up in Google's results. However, a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York ruled in favour of Google stating that the scraping did not violate copyright law, because Genius was not the original copyright holder of the lyrics to begin with.

In December 2019, Genius claimed that Google was scraping song lyrics from Genius' website, where it also provides commentary and explanations for the lyrics. According to a new report by The Hollywood Reporter, it proved this by hiding the phrase “red handed” in Morse code in the lyrics themselves. This hidden watermark then appeared in related Google searches without any attribution of credit given to Genius. The song lyrics website then took this case to court and even though Judge Margo Brodie from Eastern District of New York validated the scraping claims, the case was dismissed because Genius was not the owner of the lyrics.

The lyrics posted on Genius are still owned by the songwriter and musicians so they hold the copyright. Genius does license the lyrics and adds annotations, commentary, and explanations, but it does not make for a valid copyright claim according to the court.

In June of last year, Google put out a blog post explaining how it sources the lyrics to songs. It said that it does not crawl or scrape websites to source these lyrics. It added that they come “directly from lyrics content providers, and they are updated automatically as we (Google) receive new lyrics and corrections on a regular basis.”

The question also came up during the recent anti-trust hearings in the US, where Congressman Buck raised the issue with Google CEO Sundar Pichai. At the hearing, Pichai replied that this was more of an issue between Genius and the company that Google licensed the data from.

Dismissing the lawsuit, the judge wrote, “Plaintiff's (Genius) breach of contract claims are nothing more than claims seeking to enforce the copyright owners' exclusive rights to protection from unauthorized reproduction of the lyrics and are therefore pre-empted." Brodie went on to state, “Plaintiff's claim is preempted by the Copyright Act because, at its core, it is a claim that Defendants (Google) created an unauthorized reproduction of Plaintiff's derivative work, which is itself conduct that violates an exclusive right of the copyright owner under federal copyright law.”

Genius tried to remand the case back to a state court but the judge dismissed the complaint citing there was no legitimate claim.


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Vineet Washington Vineet Washington writes about gaming, smartphones, audio devices, and new technologies for Gadgets 360, out of Delhi. Vineet is a Senior Sub-editor for Gadgets 360, and has frequently written about gaming on all platforms and new developments in the world of smartphones. In his free time, Vineet likes to play video games, make clay models, play the guitar, watch sketch-comedy, and anime. Vineet is available on vineetw@ndtv.com, so please send in your leads and tips. More
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