“Over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius,” said Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, in an email message. The company said it used a watermarking system in its lyrics that embedded patterns in the formatting of apostrophes. Genius said it found more than 100 examples of songs on Google that came from its site.
Starting around 2016, Genius said, the company made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.
When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.”
Hiding fake or secret data inside of protected works is relatively common practice. In cartography, map makers will include fake roads known as trap streets, and laser printers have long included tracking dots that let you trace any printed page back to the printer that created it. Wikipedia has a whole list of these fictitious entries.
Genius’ approach takes the cake for me though, because it involves punctuation and typography.
There are better people to explain the nuances and mess of Genius’ attempted enforcement of pseudo copyright over lyrics that don’t belong to them. (As Nick Heer says, Genius’ content is a mix of “best guess original transcription[s]” and artist-verified lyrics.) But ultimately, this points back to Google’s enormous control over the traffic, and often financial wellbeing, of sites whose content it decides to scrape and surface via Knowledge Panels or Featured Snippets.