‘Been caught stealin’….’

GOOGLE HAS FALLEN for a sting which is said to have proved the firm is ‘stealing’ data from a rival website.

Genius.com, a site specialising in providing song lyrics, had suspected that Google had been scraping its site and using the lyrics to populate the ‘information panels’ often seen in the side of search results.

This isn’t that uncommon, but usually Google credits the source; in this case, Genius was getting no credit.

But Genius wasn’t going to take that lying down. The company wanted to prove that Google was indeed sourcing uncredited, and set about proving it by matching high tech with low tech.

By changing the punctuation is certain lyrics, swapping out straight and rounded quotes and commas, the firm was able to encode a morse code message to Google.

And the message was “R E D   H A N D E D“.

Sure enough, Google pulled the lyric through and repeated the message, without ever knowing that’s what it had done.

There are two issues here – the first is easy – is Google nicking content without proper credit? Well, that’s pretty much beyond doubt based on this exercise. The second is more difficult – does Genius.com have a reason to complain? Well, that’s a bit more complex.

For a start, Genius.com doesn’t own the lyrics in the first place. Its entire site is based either of user-generated content or official lyrics swiped from elsewhere. Indeed for the first years of its life, it was Genius.com that was nicking stuff, before eventually going legit in the wake of criticism.

But from Google’s side, this is an issue that could open a much bigger can of worms at a time when it is under increased scrutiny for anti-competitive actions. The more uncredited content it puts straight into its results, the fewer hits those sites get – meanwhile, Google earns another chunk from the adverts on its page.

In effect, the issue isn’t whether the lyrics are stolen – the lucrative adverts are the real prize. μ

Further reading

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