SCOTUS Asks Feds to Give Input in IP Dispute Between Google and Genius Lyrics

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States asked the Solicitor General to weigh in on a Copyright Act dispute between online lyric website Genius Media and Google, who the former claims blatantly breached the parties’ contract and stole Genius’s labors for its own competing commercial purposes.

The docket notification inviting the Solicitor General to file a brief comes after the parties and amici curiae briefed the circuit-dividing preemption question.

The case was filed in 2019 when Genius sued Google and LyricFind, which provides lyrics to Google for use in its search results, for $50 million for breach of contract. Genius explains that its website offers song lyrics to the public for free “[t]hrough the power of crowdsourcing, as well as labor-intensive and costly in-house efforts.”

The company asserts that it owns no copyrights to the content displayed on its website and instead says that site visitors agree to its contractual terms as a condition for availing themselves of the benefit of its services, including the promise not to reproduce the contents of Genius’s platform.

Genius’ petition for a writ of certiorari claims that “Google accepted the contractual commitment, but then blatantly violated it by stealing Genius’s work and placing the lyrics on its own competing site, drastically decreasing web traffic to Genius as a result.” Genius sued, but had its state law contract claim rejected by both the trial court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appellate court held that Congress preempted Genius’ contract rights. Specifically, the panel said that the Copyright Act’s preemption clause does not permit a business to invoke traditional state-law contract remedies to enforce a promise not to copy and use its content. In so ruling, the panel applied Second Circuit precedent, which, in turn, followed the Sixth Circuit’s approach.

Genius’ petition contends that this “minority” approach is wrong and must be addressed by the nation’s high court. Substantively, Genius argues that state law protects contractual commitments like the one Google agreed to. Further, it says that nothing in the text or underlying policy of the Copyright Act suggests that Congress intended to erase these sorts of commitments.

Further, the petition claims that the multifactor, subjective test the Second Circuit applied “draws arbitrary distinctions among contract claims that have no bearing on the Act’s preemptive scope.”

The case was distributed for conference on December 9, after which the justices invited Solicitor General to express the views of the United States.

Genius Media is represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Google by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati P.C. and Williams & Connolly LLP. Co-defendant LyricFind is represented by Freundlich Law.