DOJ Urges Supreme Court To Let Google Victory Stand In Battle Over Lyrics

The Biden administration is urging the Supreme Court to turn away Genius Music Group, which is attempting to revive claims that Google scraped song lyrics from the Genius site, in violation of its terms of service.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday, the Department of Justice says the battle between Google and Genius has some wrinkles that render the case “a poor vehicle” for deciding the main point of contention -- whether federal copyright law precludes Genuis's lawsuit.

The battle dates to December of 2019, when Genius sued Google, along with the company LyricFind, for allegedly copying lyrics from Genius and displaying them in the search results. (LyricFind allegedly scraped the lyrics and licensed them to Google.)

Genius licensed the right to display the lyrics, which were posted by users, but didn't own a copyright in the lyrics and didn't claim that Google infringed federal copyright law.

Instead, Genius alleged that Google and LyricFind breached Genius's contract by failing to abide by the site's terms of service, which prohibit website visitors from distributing content for commercial purposes.

Google countered that the dispute was governed by copyright law, and argued that Genius could not proceed because it didn't own the copyright to the lyrics.

U.S. District Court Judge Margo Brodie in the Eastern District of New York dismissed the case in 2020, ruling that Genius's claims were precluded by copyright law. A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit upheld that decision last year.

Genius then urged the Supreme Court to hear an appeal, essentially arguing that federal copyright law shouldn't override claims stemming from alleged contractual violation.

The company wrote that the only way it can protect its business “is to condition otherwise-free access on a visitor’s promise not to collect Genius’s content and use it for competing commercial purposes.”

The Supreme Court subsequently sought input from the Biden administration.

The Department of Justice says the Supreme Court should reject the request for an appeal from Genius, arguing that the matter is not a run-of-the-mill contract dispute because Genius didn't require website visitors to expressly agree to its terms of service.

“Petitioner’s own breach-of-contract claims are atypical ... because access to petitioner’s website is not conditioned on any express promise to abide by petitioner’s terms of service, and petitioner does not contend that respondents made any such express promise here,” attorneys with the Solicitor General's office wrote.

The Biden administration also suggested that other circuit courts would have sided with Google under the circumstances.

“There is little indication that any other court of appeals would reach a different outcome in this case,” the government argued.

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