Is Google Stealing Content?

As an SEO, I understand the importance of featured snippets, and the potential click-through rate and traffic opportunities they can provide to clients. Working with clients historically, a featured snippet on a high search volume phrase saw visitor increases of over 1000% to that particular page, and we didn’t start with low numbers.

One area this doesn’t seem to be the case though is song lyrics, and Google has been thrust into the spotlight after being accused of essentially stealing content from lyrics website Genius.

Featured Snippets vs LyricsBox

The featured snippet is useful to the user as it introduces them to the benefits but crucially doesn’t list all 10 in the snippet. This means that users are still likely to click through to the website to see the full list of benefits. Google is happy as it provided value to the user and the website owner is happy as that featured snippet result means that they’re taking a large portion of real estate on the first page, and because of that, demanding a much higher portion of clicks against competing websites.

So based on this theory, Genius would be happy that their lyrics are being featured? Wrong. Lyricboxes are a different story as they feature the entire content of the lyrics. To test this I searched for the lyrics to Taylor Swifts new song “You Need To Calm Down”.

No link to the website it pulled the lyrics from, just an arrow button which then displays the lyrics in full. Because of this, there is no incentive for the user to click through the website. This means less website traffic because the searchers intent has already been fulfilled in a vast majority of cases.

Where is Google Getting This Content?

The misconception across this argument has been that Google scrapes content from websites in the same way it would for a featured snippet. However, they have specifically said that this isn’t the case:

According to Google, they “license the lyric text from third parties” which does not include Genius.

So Genius is Wrong?

This is where it gets interesting. Genius has previously accused Google of scraping its lyrics and displaying them in search results, but this is something Google has denied and ignored. Genius instead added a hidden code into the lyrics using a pattern in the formatting of apostrophes found within the lyrics. Mixing curved and straight apostrophes in the same order throughout lyrics, when converted to dots and dashes used in Morse code, this then translated into “Red Handed”. Because of this, Genious isn’t wrong, their lyrics are appearing in Google search results in LyricBoxes.

Is Google Stealing Content?

From the information we have available, it seems like Google isn’t stealing content, not intentionally anyway. It may be the case that the third parties they license the content of the lyrics from is scraping them from Genius and then selling it on. Right now, the answer isn’t clear, but with exposure now reaching global news outlets the story is far from being swept under the carpet by anyone.


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