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Genius uses 19th-century tech to prove Google copied its song lyrics

Stock photo of Google search page
Caio Resende/Pexels

No matter how advanced our technology gets, sometimes you just can’t beat the simple efficiency of old-school tech. And in this case, it was centuries-old tech that got the job done.

Song lyrics website Genius, had to resort to rather strange methods to catch Google in the act of copying its lyrics to then be featured in the information panels that appear on the search engine’s search results page when you search for song lyrics. According to BGR, Genius felt the need to catch Google in the act because it alleges that the search engine giant had “been copying its lyrics for years and posting them directly on Google Search, thus preventing visitors from going to its own site.”

And according to The Wall Street Journal’s original report on the subject, Genius says it had first become aware of the issue in 2016 when a software engineer noticed that the lyrics of a particularly difficult-to-understand song (Panda by Desiigner) were the same ones published on the Genius website. Genius then reported the issue to Google twice, the first time in 2017 and the last one in April 2019. But the strangest part of this whole story is not that Google was copying lyrics. It’s the method by which Genius says it caught the technology company.

Apparently, Genius used Morse code, a communications technology that was developed in the 19th century, specifically the 1830s and 1840s. That’s right: Genius used a simple code comprised of dots and dashes to catch one of the biggest and innovative technology companies in the world today.

And The Wall Street Journal’s report also includes a 30-second video demonstration (created by Genius), that shows how the lyrics website used Morse code to catch Google. Here’s how it was done: Genius watermarked its lyrics with two kinds of apostrophes (curly and straight) and sequenced them in a unique pattern. In the video, Genius uses an Alessia Cara song as an example, highlight the watermarked apostrophe sequence in their version and then shows that that same sequence is also present in Google’s version of the lyrics. Furthermore, once the sequence is translated into Morse code signature dots and dashes, the sequence is revealed to be the phrase “red-handed.”

The WSJ’s report also includes Google’s response to the accusations, in which the company maintains that it doesn’t create the lyrics but instead licenses them from partners. Another statement from the company also said that Google will investigate Genius’ claims and then move to end agreements with partners that they find are not “upholding good practices.”

Anita George
Anita has been a technology reporter since 2013 and currently writes for the Computing section at Digital Trends. She began…
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