Despite the introduction of evidence that seems to prove Genius’s stolen-lyrics accusations against Google and LyricFind, a judge has dismissed the lawsuit.
Genius, a Brooklyn-headquartered platform that bills itself as the “world’s biggest collection of song lyrics and musical knowledge,” initiated its legal complaint against Google and LyricFind – a Toronto-based service that supplies lyrics for Google search results – last year. Essentially, Genius alleged in the $50 million suit that LyricFind had violated its terms of service and diverted web traffic by lifting and posting (on LyricFind/Google) the lyrics transcribed by its team. (It bears reiterating that the lawsuit didn’t concern copyright infringement allegations, as both LyricFind and Genius license lyrics directly from publishers. However, these licensing deals don’t typically include copies of the lyrics themselves, which the companies must pinpoint on their own.)
As part of a carefully executed effort to prove the charges, Genius inserted almost-indiscernible “curly apostrophes” into its lyrics alongside regular apostrophes, and the alternating punctuation marks then appeared in 100 sets of lyrics posted by LyricFind. And in a further a testament to just how much thought went into the plan, Genius’s planted apostrophes read “red handed” in Morse code. Google emphasized that LyricFind provides its search-result lyrics, and LyricFind stated that it could have sourced the lyrics from other platforms, in addition to identifying the copied text as a “minuscule” portion of its overall database.
We obtained an exclusive copy of the lawsuit’s dismissal. First, in explaining its position on Genius’s breach of contract/terms of service allegation, the court specified that “the Copyright Act preempts Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims.” In brief, this relatively lengthy portion of the ruling – like those that follow – revolves around the idea that the Copyright Act’s protections apply to lyrics’ writers/publishers, and that these parties have the sole legal right to authorize derivative works.
As both LyricFind and Genius received authorization to display the lyrics, the plaintiff “fails to allege breach of contract claims that are qualitatively different from federal copyright claims,” which it cannot pursue, given that it does not own the works’ underlying copyrights.
Similarly, the court tossed Genius’s unjust enrichment claim due to preemption under the Copyright Act, as well as the company’s unfair competition allegation. In explaining the latter, Judge Margo Kitsy Brodie maintained that the plaintiffs hadn’t accused LyricFind of breaching “any fiduciary duty or confidential relationship” or misappropriating trade secrets, which are necessary elements of non-preempted claims in cases of this nature.
At the time of this writing, neither Genius nor LyricFind had commented on the lawsuit’s dismissal on social media.