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Genius Lyric Site Accusation Brings Fresh Criticism of Rich Snippets

Popular lyrics website Genius.com claims it has caught Google “red-handed” stealing their site content for use in search results.

The accusation came in a Wall Street Journal article published on June 16, 2019. What’s more, according to Genius, their content has been appearing in search results for years, dating back to 2017. The company has brought this up numerous times with Google, to no avail.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, Genius sent Google a letter again in April before they reached out to the Journal detailing steps they’d taken to track their content.

As reported by the Journal, “Starting around 2016 … 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.”

Converting the two apostrophes into dots and dashes for Morse code spells out the words “red-handed.”

The Wall Street Journal verified Genius’ claim that they found numerous examples within Google search results for numerous songs. Google, meanwhile, denies they knowingly copied lyrics from Genius, and are investigating accordingly. Ironically, back in May of this year, Google introduced a free anti-scraper tool.

There are two big caveats about this case:

  • Neither Genius nor Google owns the lyric content. Even if Google’s crawlers scrape Genius’ content as the evidence suggests, the copyright is still held by the songwriters.
  • Google’s search engine will frequently highlight content it deems relevant to search terms and display a rich snippet.

This could be an issue with the crawler simply doing its job too effectively, which is something Google’s received a fair amount of criticism for in the past.

Rich Snippets: A Double-Edged Sword

Rich snippets remain a touchy subject for some publishers. On the one hand, content featured in a rich snippet is a win; your site is doing something well, and Google is effectively telling users, “This is the answer to your question.”

But on the other hand, rich snippets directly feature relevant content in a SERP. When a rich snippet answers a question, why bother clicking through?

Some feel that Google’s rich snippets take traffic away from original publishers. A more critical stance is that Google’s creating an engine and an ecosystem that makes it possible for users to never leave Google itself, staying within their network entirely.

With Google apparently planning more premium features for businesses using their platforms, this criticism may hold more weight.