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Genius sues Google over copied song lyrics after hiding another secret code to prove it

Published Dec 3rd, 2019 9:51PM EST
Genius sues Google
Image: Julien de Rosa/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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Over the summer

, the Genius lyrics website made a slew of headlines over its accusation that Google has been just flat-out lifting song lyrics from its site and plopping them right onto a search results page, making it so that you don’t even have to click through to the Genius website anymore.

How did Genius become certain of that discovery? By hiding a Morse code message within some of the lyrics on its own site, the code being a series of curly and straight apostrophes which, when assembled, correspond to the Morse code for the word “REDHANDED” (as in, Google has been caught red-handed). Sure enough, those apostrophes showed up in Google results. But here’s the thing, though. After confronting Google with that evidence as described in a lawsuit Genius filed today against the search giant (with Genius describing that evidence as Watermark #1), Genius then decided to hide a second secret code (Watermark #2) inside its lyrics to further prove the lyrics are being copied.

In order to test its suspicion, Genius explains in the lawsuit against Google which seeks $50 million in damages that “in August 2019, Genius devised a second watermark (‘Watermark #2’). This watermark involves replacing the 15th, 16th, 19th, and 25th spaces of each song’s lyrics with a special whitespace character called a ‘four-per-em’ space.

“This character (U+2005) looks identical to the normal ‘space’ character (U+0020), but can be differentiated via Unicode character codes readable by a computer. If one ignores the first 14 spaces of a song’s lyrics, then interprets the four-per-em spaces as dashes, and regular spaces as dots, the sequence spells out the word ‘GENIUS’ in Morse code.”

The full lawsuit is available to read here. This all originally stems from Genius’ suspicion that Google was lifting lyrics at least as early as 2016, back when a software engineer made the discovery that Desiigner’s Panda song lyrics on Google matched the ones on Genius. The lyrics that are very difficult to understand, but according to The Wall Street Journal, Genius had the error-free version of the lyrics straight from the artist. Seeing Google likewise carry perfectly-matching lyrics, not to mention the presence of Genius’ watermarks inside lyrics that show up in Google results, inspired the lyrics site to take its beef with Google to the next level.

Google, for its part, has defended itself by saying it doesn’t source the lyrics itself, rather relying on third-parties for that work.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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