The lyric-annotating website Genius (formerly known as Rap Genius) is accusing everyone’s favorite too-big-to-fail monopoly Google of stealing lyrics originally posted on its site. And the proof lies in a secret code embedded in Genius’ lyric transcriptions that allegedly reveals an obvious copy-and-paste job by the tech behemoth.
If you want to understand what Playboi Carti is squealing on “Kid Cudi,” or what the famously inarticulate Ariana Grande chants on “7 Rings,” you turn to the Google. The search engine, which once humbly redirected you to other websites to find the answer to your queries, increasingly monopolized both the question and answer games in 2012 with the introduction of “information panels.” The “panel” was a small box in your Google search results that provided the answer to simple questions right there in the search itself, no clicking required. Like so:
Genius is accusing Google of sourcing some of these lyrics from their site while simultaneously siphoning off viewers who would have otherwise clicked through to Genius. And the way they proved it was very smart, befitting the company moniker.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the company hid a secret code in the apostrophes of its lyrics. Genius used curly and straight apostrophes to represent the dots and dashes of Morse Code, and when the apostrophes are translated into English, it spells out “red handed.” Genius had privately accused Google of theft back in 2017, after Genius noted that the famously difficult-to-understand lyrics for Desiigner’s trap hit “Panda” were exactly the same on both platforms.
Google, for its part, maintains that lyrics found in information panels are not scraped directly from websites, and are instead sourced through third-party contractors. The company, however, conceded to an investigation into whether its “partners” were “upholding good practices.”
Genius itself is no stranger to theft accusations—in its early years, it published song lyrics without permission. It took the site five years to finally sign a licensing agreement with music publishers.