The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

There's No Graphy Like Stega-No-Graphy


CNN reports, relying on a Wall Street Journal story,

Music-annotation website Genius is accusing Google of stealing lyrics from its website and publishing them in search results … thus breaking Genius' terms of service and siphoning off traffic.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, said that a Genius employee noticed the first instance in 2016. Rapper Desiigner's song "Panda" had hard-to-decipher lyrics. So, the company had the rapper transcribe the song for them—and then Genius saw their version being displayed on Google.

To show that Google was allegedly doing this, developers at Genius alternated the lyrics' apostrophes between straight and curly styles in a targeted way: When the apostrophes were converted into Morse code, it spelled out the phrase "red handed," the newspaper said. Genius said it notified Google first in 2017 and as recently as April about the practice.

Google states that it gets its lyrics from a third party, so who did the copying (if there was copying) is not clear. Steganography, for those who don't know the term, is (to quote the American Heritage Dictionary),

The deliberate concealment of data within other data, as by embedding digitized text in a digitized image.

The Morse code component, of course, was just a little bit of flair—the steganography, or, if you prefer, the watermark, would have worked regardless of how the curly quote substitution was arranged. Thanks to Prof. Mark Liberman (Language Log) for the pointer.