The US Supreme Court has refused to hear Genius’ lawsuit against Google, thus upholding the decisions of lower courts. Genius, a web resource known for publishing song lyrics under appropriate licenses, has been trying to prove since 2019 that Google is illegally “stealing” the fruits of its labor. The search engine allegedly obtains song lyrics from the LyricFind service, which Genius claims copies them from its platform and licenses them to Google.
Genius originally filed suit in 2020, but faced setbacks in the district and appeals courts. District Judge Margo Brody ruled that Genius’ claims “override” the U.S. Copyright Act and effectively dismissed the case. A subsequent appeal was also unsuccessful for Genius.
Ironically, Genius also faced accusations during the litigation. The company argued that by publishing the licensed lyrics, it had invested significant effort and resources in transcribing them, creating additional rights beyond the original copyright. However, the judge said that Genius actually created unauthorized derivative works based on the original song lyrics, making their claims similar to copyright claims. The district court’s decision states, “Defendants have unauthorizedly reproduced Plaintiff’s work, which in and of itself violates the owners’ exclusive right under federal copyright law.”
Google refuted Genius’ arguments, calling them exaggerated hyperbole and supporting the appeals court’s position. Google emphasized that Genius’ contractual claims are essentially claims for copyright infringement and therefore not covered by the Copyright Act. The company stated: “Genius’ contract claims are copyright claims in disguise. Genius seeks to enforce rights that are not only equivalent to, but virtually identical to, the rights set forth in section 106 of the Copyright Act.”
The U.S. government studied the case and urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit. According to the government’s analysis, there were no material differences between the rights claimed by Genius and the rights protected under federal law. In addition, the government pointed out that Genius had not proven an express promise by Google to refrain from copying song lyrics from the plaintiff’s website. On appeal, the government argued, “[Genius] does not allege that defendants expressly promised not to copy song lyrics from plaintiff’s website. Rather, according to plaintiff, any person who visits its website automatically becomes a contractual counterparty and agrees to the terms of service, regardless of whether the visitor is aware of the browsing agreement or any of its specific provisions.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, in declining to hear the case, effectively upheld the decisions made by the lower courts. Consequently, this ruling clarifies that a company cannot assert copyright-like rights based on a contract that was not consensual.
The outcome of this court battle has implications for companies seeking to establish rights beyond copyright through contractual relationships. The Supreme Court’s decision confirmed the boundaries of copyright and contract law, defining the landscape of intellectual property disputes in the digital sphere.