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  • Henry Park

Google escapes redhanded

Genius is a song-lyric web service. Genius is licensed by music publishers, however, it doesn't receive the actual song lyrics. Instead, its users transcribe song lyrics.

Google is Google.

Genius believed Google was unlawfully copying the song lyrics that its users were creating. To test its hypothesis, Genius created different digital watermarks to embed in certain lyrics appearing on its site. One watermark consisted of a distinctive pattern of curly and straight apostrophes that spell out REDHANDED in Morse code. Genius later found the song lyrics with the watermark in Google's search feature.

Genius then sued Google in state court for a variety of contract related claims. Google removed the action to federal court asserting that all the state law claims are essentially copyright infringement claims. On August 10th, the court then dismissed the claims because they were preempted by Copyright law (Genius Media Group Inc. v. Google LLC, Case 1:19-cv-07279, EDNY (Dkt 22, Opinion hosted on

How did the court reach that result?

First, the actual song lyrics are copyrighted by the artists (Opinion at 11). Thus, Genius was effectively seeking to enforce the copyright owner's exclusive rights to prevent unauthorized reproduction of the lyrics (Opinion at 16).

Second, the lyrics created by Genius's users were not authorized under its licensing agreement with the music publishers. Thus, "Plaintiff’s claim is preempted by the Copyright Act because, at its core, it is a claim that Defendants created an unauthorized reproduction of Plaintiff’s derivative work, which is itself conduct that violates an exclusive right of the copyright owner under federal copyright law" (Opinion at 19).

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