We think of Morse code in terms of dots and dashes, but really it’s a kind of binary code. Those symbols might as well be 0s and 1s or any other pair of characters. That attribute is exactly what led to a sting operation a music lyric site called Genius.com pulled on Google. At issue was a case of song lyrics that had allegedly been stolen by the search giant.
Song lyric sites — just like Google — depend on page views to make revenue. The problem is that in a Google search the lyrics appear on the search page, so there is no longer much incentive to continue to the song lyric site. That’s free enterprise for you, right? It is, but there was a problem. It appears that Google — or, according to Google, one of their partners — was simply copying Genius.com’s lyrics. How does Genius know the song lyrics were copied? According to news reports in the Wall Street Journal and other sources, they used Morse code.
The company first became suspicious when they approached an artist for lyrics that are apparently difficult to understand, and once they had published them they found Google also had the correct lyrics. That’s not proof, of course, but the next step is where they got tricky. They used straight and curly quotes as dots and dashes to embed a Morse code message in several lyrics. The message? REDHANDED.
The quote patterns then reportedly started also appearing in Google search results. Legally though the picture is a little confusing, after all Genius doesn’t own the lyrics in question. It does remain pretty bad form though to take content from other web sites and use it to starve the same web site from traffic.
Google’s statements claim that the lyrics were sourced from a third party called LyricFind and that they would act against any supplier violating their agreements with the company. LyricFind responded to the Wall Street Journal article saying that Genius gets user-generated content which may originate elsewhere and that others may be scraping Genius data into sources that LyricFind then uses.
We aren’t lawyers, so we won’t really comment on the validity of either side’s case. But we did think it was interesting that the sting put Morse code and steganography to practical use.
Photo credit: Cassi Stewart