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Foggy lakeside cabin in the German Alps near Oberstdorf,...

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Foggy lakeside cabin in the German Alps near Oberstdorf, Germany

by @nico.shoot

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jhamill
107 days ago
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California
dreadhead
110 days ago
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Vancouver Island, Canada
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Genius/Google Dispute Gets Even Dumber: Microsoft And Amazon Show Same 'Coded' Lyrics, But Genius Doesn't Care

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On Tuesday we did a deep dive into the whole kerfuffle over Genius claiming that Google was "scraping" its lyrics and explained why the whole story was a huge nothingburger. There are lots of reasons to be worried about Google, but this was not one of them. Among the many, many points in the article, we noted that Google had properly licensed the lyrics, that LyricFind admitted that it was the one responsible, that most publishers don't even know the lyrics they're licensing in the first place, and that basically everyone just copies them from everyone else. And, now, just to put a fine point on how this entire story in the Wall Street Journal (which has published multiple anti-Google editorials over the past few years) was concocted just to attack Google over something it hadn't done, a Wired article analyzing the situation notes that Microsoft's Bing and Amazon Music also display the identical lyrics that appear to have the "coded" or "watermarked" apostrophes that Genius put in place:

One thing that some news stories have missed about Genius’ allegations is that Google is far from alone in surfacing lyrics that may have originated from Genius. Microsoft Bing and Amazon Music also appear to have Genius-watermarked lyrics.

And Genius' response to this further evidence that it's not Google doing anything particularly nefarious?

Genius would not comment on other sites’ apparent use of its transcripts.

In other words "hey, don't mess with our narrative that big bad Google is the problem..."

Again, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Google -- and we've covered many of them over the years. But a totally misleading and ginned up story that does not accurately portray the situation or the law is not helping anything but the outrage machine.



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jhamill
174 days ago
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About that whole Google stealing lyrics from Genius story.

As they say, the devil is in the details.
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Shrek’s Loss

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Follow @lamebook on instagram for more content!

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jhamill
174 days ago
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How...how did they find out the dog responded to Donkey in the voice of Shrek?
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Dumbest 'Gotcha' Story Of The Week: Google, Genius And The Copying Of Licensed Lyrics

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You may have seen this story in various forms over the weekend, starting with a big Wall Street Journal article (paywall likely) claiming that Genius caught Google "red handed" in copying lyrics from its site. Lots of other articles on the story use the term "red handed" in the title, and you'll understand why in a moment. However, there's a lot of background to go over here -- and while many Google haters are making a big deal out of this news, after going through the details, it seems like (mostly) a completely over-hyped, ridiculous story.

First, a little background: for pretty much the entire existence of this site, we've written about legal disputes concerning lyrics sites -- going all the way back to a story in 2000 about LyricFind (remember that name?) preemptively shutting itself down to try to work out "licensing" deals for the copyright on lyrics. Over the years, publishers have routinely freaked out and demanded money from lyrics sites. As we've pointed out over and over again, it was never clear how this made any sense at all -- especially on crowd sourced lyrics sites. It's not as though lyrics sites are taking away from the sales of the music -- if anything, they're the kinds of thing that connects people more deeply to the music and would help improve other aspects of the music business ecosystem.

Over time, however, more and more sites realized that it was just easier to pay up than fight it out in court. One of those sites was Genius -- originally "RapGenius" -- which was called out by the National Music Publisher's Association as one of the "worst" infringers out there a few years back. Genius eventually caved in and agreed to license lyrics, despite incredibly strong fair use claims (since the whole point of Genius was to allow for annotation and commentary).

However, in this latest case, it's now Genius that's complaining about someone else copying its content. Except... it's not Genius' content. This is what makes the story bizarre -- which we'll get to in a moment. However, first, it is worth highlighting the somewhat fun way in which Genius apparently "caught" Google using content from the Genius site as its source material. Basically, Genius hid a code in whether it used "straight" apostrophes or curly "smart" apostrophes:

Starting around 2016, Genius said, the company made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.

When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.”

The WSJ shows the following example from a snippet of lyrics from the Alessia Cara song "Not Today."

So, this secret bit of encoding is kinda clever (as is the use of Morse code and the message it spells out). But, despite everyone freaking out over this, there's a pretty big question? Does this even matter? And while CBS stupidly and incorrectly claims that Genius is suing Google over this, there's no indication of any actual lawsuit yet, and it's not clear what they could actually sue over.

First off, despite the headline accusations against Google, Google (1) licenses lyrics itself, and (2) gets them from LyricFind (remember them?) with whom it signed a big deal a few years back. This raises a few different issues.

First, as law professor Annemarie Briday noted, since both Genius and Google license the lyrics, it doesn't really matter where they're sourced from, as regards to copyright law:

Indeed, in many ways, the situation reminds me of an important Supreme Court ruling from 1991 in Feist v. Rural Telephone Services. In that case, you had a telephone company that inserted fictitious residents and phone numbers into its phone books to catch anyone copying straight from its own directory. And, indeed, it caught Feist ("red handed") copying directly from its phone books, by finding the fictitious entries in Feist's directory. However, as the Supreme Court noted, there was no copyright interest in phone numbers, which were factual information. This was the case that explicitly rejected the "sweat of the brow" theory of copyright, saying that you only get copyright in new creative works.

This situation is not identical, because there is clearly a copyright interest in the lyrics, but since both parties (actually, all three parties, if we include LyricFind) have properly licensed the works, then we're in the same basic legal framework. Anyone who is allowed to post these lyrics can and should be able to get them from anywhere.

The second reason why this story is likely all hype and no substance is the role of LyricFind. Google basically said "hey, we just get stuff from our partners, and don't scrape, so if there's a problem... it's from our partners." From the WSJ:

In a written statement, Google said the lyrics on its site, which pop up in little search-result squares called “information panels,” are licensed from partners, not created by Google.

“We take data quality and creator rights very seriously and hold our licensing partners accountable to the terms of our agreement,” Google said.

After this article was published online Sunday, Google issued a second statement to say it was investigating the issue raised by Genius and would terminate its agreements with partners who were “not upholding good practices.”

LyricFind separately denied copying from Genius, but that seems like a more likely culprit. In its own blog post, LyricFind says that it supplied the lyrics for Google, but denies copying from Genius, and says that the WSJ got a bunch of facts wrong:

The lyrics in question were provided to Google by LyricFind, as was confirmed to WSJ prior to publication. Google licenses lyrics content from music publishers (the rightful owner of the lyrics) and from LyricFind. To accuse them of any wrongdoing is extremely misleading.

LyricFind invests heavily in a global content team to build its database. That content team will often start their process with a copy of the lyric from numerous sources (including direct from artists, publishers, and songwriters), and then proceed to stream, correct, and synchronize that data. Most content our team starts with requires significant corrections before it goes live in our database.

Some time ago, Ben Gross from Genius notified LyricFind that they believed they were seeing Genius lyrics in LyricFind’s database. As a courtesy to Genius, our content team was instructed not to consult Genius as a source. Recently, Genius raised the issue again and provided a few examples. All of those examples were also available on many other lyric sites and services, raising the possibility that our team unknowingly sourced Genius lyrics from another location.

As a result, LyricFind offered to remove any lyrics Genius felt had originated from them, even though we did not source them from Genius’ site. Genius declined to respond to that offer. Despite that, our team is currently investigating the content in our database and removing any lyrics that seem to have originated from Genius.

The company also pointed out that Genius has only identified approximately 100 songs that were copied, and it has 1.5 million in its database, suggesting that it's not in the business of regularly copying from Genius. But, again, it's not clear why it would really matter that much either way, since everyone is licensed.

To put it another way: Genius' license to the lyrics does not grant it any other rights beyond being able to display those lyrics itself. It has no exclusivity. It doesn't hold the copyright. And, no, changing a few apostrophes is unlikely to meet the creative bar to get a new derivative copyright. So, there's no additional right that Genius has to stop another licensee from using its version of the lyrics.

There's a separate issue here worth noting as well: all of this demonstrates just how idiotic the whole "licensing of lyrics" business is -- considering that what everyone here is admitting is that even when they license lyrics, they're making it up much of the time. Specifically, what people are noting is that they license lyrics from the publishers, but the publishers themselves rarely even have or know the lyrics they're licensing, so lyrics sites try to figure them out themselves and "create" the lyrics file which may or may not be accurate. Indeed, the WSJ reports that this is why Genius first became suspicious of Google -- because on one particularly difficult to understand track, it had reached out to the musician directly for the lyrics, and then was surprised to see the same version on Google.

But... if the publishers don't even know they lyrics they're licensing, then what the fuck are they licensing in the first place? The right to try to decipher the lyrics that they supposedly hold a copyright on? Really?

One music guy suggested that a different "source" of the "problem" (if you do consider it a problem), is that since the publishers have no idea what the lyrics are anyway, THEY might be sourcing the lyrics themselves from Genius and then passing them along to Genius.

In short, the whole lyrics/copyright space remains a clusterfuck. But it's difficult to see how it's at all Google's fault.

Some people have raised a few other possible legal arguments that have at least somewhat more merit than any copyright claim, but still strike me as incredibly weak. First, there's the argument that this kind of scraping violates Genius' terms of service. Of course, that opens a Pandora's box of how enforceable click through terms of service actually are (though, many courts have found them binding). But then it will matter quite a bit as to whether or not it was actually Google, LyricFind or someone else who copied the content from Genius. And, given everything discussed above, tracking that down seems almost impossible -- and given the low number of "copied" lyrics found, it certainly doesn't appear to be a major automated scraping situation.

The other possibility that a few people have suggested, is that there are competition/antitrust arguments to be made against Google here. That argument boils down to Google using its size and position to abuse that position to harm the competitor Genius. And... maybe? There was a similar complaint a few years ago about Google apparently sinking a site that tried to estimate the "net worth" of celebrities, by posting that info in a Google "answer box" and not having people click through to the celebrity site.

But that argument also strikes me as incredibly weak for multiple reasons. First, if Google putting the info from your site in an answer box destroys all your traffic and your business, then, um, you didn't have very much of a business in the first place, and it's not clear that your site really adds that much value. At the very least, it suggests that your business is not that defensible. In the case of Genius, the site has long insisted that its real value was in the annotations, not just the lyrics. But now it's complaining that showing just the lyrics (which tons of other sites also have) is somehow removing traffic? That's... weak. Second, going by consumer benefit alone, Google has a pretty strong argument that displaying this information (and again, with lyrics, it's all properly licensed) is a lot better for the users than shunting them off to a third party site. And, third, as evidence above, it doesn't appear that Google actually did anything here at all. Other than properly licensing lyrics via LyricFind. It's very difficult to see how there's any antitrust issue with that.

In the end, this is an interesting story -- especially in highlighting how Google was "caught" -- but it's hard to see what the actual legal problem is here. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Google, but the fact that its properly licensed lyrics matches someone else's properly licensed lyrics, doesn't seem like one of them.



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jhamill
177 days ago
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About that Google got caught 'red handed' stealing lyrics story.
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duerig
177 days ago
Thanks for sharing. This is really interesting, and underlines something that has become more and more clear lately. The concept of ownership that people carry around often diverges from the law. We see this in cases where locals in an area feel an ownership of something that they have no legal title to (perhaps it is public land or parking spaces). But here in the copyright realm, I think people have an intuitive idea of copyright that is 'sweat of the brow' even though this has apparently been explicitly rejected by the courts. And the idea that somebody worked hard to make something is much more plausible as a cause of ownership than that they are a unique genius that crafted the masterpiece ex nihilo and we mere mortals can only gaze on in admiration and imitation. After reading this, I'll have to keep an eye out for other cases where abstract copyright 'ownership' seems to diverge from standard expectations.
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20190616

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jhamill
177 days ago
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Pretty good summation of Capitalism.
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angelchrys
177 days ago
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Overland Park, KS
Technicalleigh
177 days ago
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Vancouver BC
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Twitter is showing that it won’t even try to distinguish hate speech from the efforts to oppose it.

Hey, all ya’ll remember oh, not that long ago at all, when I said that liberals would be victimized by censorship even worse than the right? Yeah?

Predicting the predictable is predictably easy.

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jhamill
177 days ago
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I've said it before. I'm sad that I have to say it again. Not being able to use Twitter is NOT censorship. Twitter isn't the US government telling you that you can't say something.

Twitter is an app that is not critically important to anything but the investors of Twitter. If Twitter went away tomorrow there would still be a thousand ways to shout our shitty opinions into the void of the internet to be indexed by Google and Facebook and Amazon so they can sell you ads to the Billy Big Mouth Bass of your dreams all while mainlining the outrage of the day that everyone says the mainstream media doesn't report on while complaining about the coverage of the outrage on the mainstream media.
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