top of page

Those lyrics... IT'S A TRAP

Updated: Jan 23

A clever music lyrics provider may have caught Google swiping their lyrics!

You may have seen reporting back in June of 2019 in outlets like PC Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and a few others — including the Ireland Law Society Gazette! — that the lyric website Genius, publicly accused Google of scraping lyrics from its site to feed up to the search engine's users rather than directing users to the Genius website where Genius derives ad revenue.

As reported, Genius embedded in the lyrics it published a series apostrophes. However, they mixed up the order of them to have some straight (') apostrophes, and some curly (’). They alternated between straight and curly marks, they claim, to create a series of Morse code messages to spell out the phrase "red handed". As in caught, red handed, as they allege they did to Google. They've produced a video video explaining what they've done.

While this presents a clever and curious watermarking strategy which I certainly haven't seen before, this idea of including traps to spring upon copyright violators is nothing new.

Cartographers and map makers would include fake inlets, coves, islands, and "trap streets" to use as evidence that rivals hadn't surveyed the areas but simply copied maps. Companies would frequently include false names and addresses in phone books and other "fictitious entries" such as "John Smith 44 (0)28 1234 4321".

I recall reading something while I was in law school about a newspaper publishing a fictional story and including in an absurd quotation it claimed to be in a foreign language but was in fact something to the effect of "so-and-so will copy this for sure". I cant' seem to provide a search engine with the proper information to find the case, but I'd be grateful if somebody reading this could enlighten me.

Software developers sometimes take a similar approach by hiding "easter eggs" — hidden messages, jokes, or features — in their applications which developers can use to identify when their code has been copied. Some easter eggs are just for fun, like when you type "Do a barrel role" into Google's search engine, or that you can change the language Google's search page users to "pirate" — or, as I've just noticed, "Bork, bork, bork!" which changes the language to mimic Jim Henson's "Swedish Chef" character from The Muppet Show.

And, while Genius has certainly deployed a similar tagging technique in a clever fashion, this approach alone is not enough for them to prevail on their claim. While I agree with certain points raised by some commentators who lampooned the complaint, I'm not surprised to find that the case has so far survived in the courts as of 23 April.

This represents one of what will likely become a number of claims complicated by an absence of caselaw, changes in technology, and the ease with which digital content can be copied and shared across systems. I'll be keeping an eye on it.



bottom of page