In late 2019, the lyric annotation site sued the tech giant and Canadian lyric sourcing company LyricFind for allegedly using content from its website without compensation or attribution. According to Variety, the complaint pointed to a hidden "watermark" used in Genius' lyrics. That mark was consistently found in Google's search results page, indicating the search had lifted the lyrics from Genius.
"Genius set the 2nd, 5th, 13th, 14th, 16th and 20th apostrophes of each watermarked song as curly apostrophes, and all the other apostrophes straight," states the complaint. "If the straight apostrophes are interpreted as dots and the curly apostrophes are interpreted as dashes, the pattern spells out 'REDHANDED' in Morse code."
Genius was seeking at least $50 million to recover damages from the alleged misappropriation of lyrics. Google denied accusations it had stolen data from Genius' website. Google also addressed the allegations in a June 2019 blog post, claiming it does "not crawl or scrape websites to source these lyrics. 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."
On Monday, Judge Margo K. Brodie of the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit, stating Genius does not own the copyright to the original lyrics and "the case law is clear that only the original copyright owner has exclusive rights to authorize derivative works."
Brodie also addressed the breach of contract issue, as Google allegedly violated Genius' terms of service by ripping off its lyric data.
"[The] 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," Brodie wrote. "[It's] a claim that [Google] created an unauthorized reproduction of [Genius'] derivative work, which is itself conduct that violates an exclusive right of the copyright owner under federal copyright law."