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Google blocks Rap Genius over link affiliate scheme

By | Published on Friday 27 December 2013


Popular lyrics website Rap Genius has been banished from Google for breaching the search engine’s rules on incentivised reciprocal links, though bosses at the site are currently in talks with the web giant to try and get their pages relisted in Google search results. Possibly by saying some seasonal Hail Marys or simply by playing snitch.

It emerged that Rap Genius was not appearing in Google searches yesterday, and as speculation rose as to why the site may have been banished from the uber-search-engine – which will account for significant portion of the site’s overall traffic – reps for the lyrics operation admitted they had “effed up”.

According to The Register, the fuck up was a recently announced ‘Rap Genius blog affiliate’ programme. One blogger enquired about the new scheme, promoted on the lyric firm’s Facebook page, and was told that if he included links to Justin Bieber lyrics stored on the Rap Genius platform in his blogs, the lyrical site would send out a promotional tweet about his site. Said blogger then posted the email exchange he’d had with Rap Genius to his site.

Because of the way Google’s search engine works, if enough bloggers linked through to Bieber lines on the Rap Genius platform using the right keywords, Bieber pages on the lyrics site would rate higher for anyone Googling the possibly retired pop tyke. Which means more traffic for Rap Genius.

But Google doesn’t like websites playing its system in this way, so responded quickly and severely once aware of the Rap Genius ruse. For their part, bosses at Rap Genius admitted they’d made an error, but insisted that they thought the affiliate scheme was kosher because links would only occur in artist-relevant posts, and no money was changing hands. They then added that they were pretty certain that their competitors in the lyric site space were all doing things that violate Google’s rules to an even greater extent.

Said Rap Genius: “We effed up, [but] other lyrics sites are almost definitely doing worse stuff, and we’ll stop. We’d love for Google to take a closer look at the whole lyrics search landscape and see whether it can make changes that would improve lyric search results”.

Last month it was the US music publishing sector that was hitting out at Rap Genius, which has so far operated without a licence from the owners of the lyrics it publishes. Many lyrics sites are unlicensed of course, though Rap Genius is of particular interest because of the $15 million in investment it has secured. The site’s operators were evasive when the National Music Publishers Association put it at the top of its list of lyrical piracy offenders last month, but then it almost immediately emerged that the company had actually just agreed a licensing deal with Sony/ATV, and that other publisher talks were ongoing.

The copyright debate around Rap Genius isn’t relevant to this week’s developments. Except perhaps for the record companies and music publishers which frequently call on Google to block sites that rampantly infringe copyright from search results (which is most record companies and music publishers). Those companies will surely note that, while Google continues to resist such action, and often says that such blocking would be unworkable, the web giant can do a pretty good job of cutting a site off, very quickly indeed, when one breaches its own laws.