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Who owns your transcripts?

Just a thought, in relation to a soon-to-be ubiquitous feature.

This is one I’ve been mulling for the last week or so, ever since I read about this dispute between Google and Genius about whether the search engine should be crediting the source of the song lyrics it returns in its results. We’ve heard a lot in the last few months about platforms beginning to integrate text for audio — Google Podcasts promises automatic transcription to aid discoverability and translation, and when I interviewed Soundtrap founder Per Emanuelsson last month he hinted that something similar was on the way for Spotify. In general, among those in the industry I speak to, there seems to be a fairly positive attitude towards these tools for better discovery and in-episode search. So far, so fine.

Except the dispute with Genius, which was essentially about who was paying the artist for permission to display the lyrics, has made me wonder who actually owns the transcript of a podcast. Of course, it’s not exactly analogous to the lyrics to a song, which have up until now been treated in copyright law much like the words of a poem, ie the artistic property of the creator or their estate. Right now, some podcasters supply their own transcripts for accessibility or discoverability reasons, others don’t. I don’t know of any situations where if a listener of third party has transcribed an episode on their own initiative, the creator has found that anything other than helpful.

But hypothetically, if a platform like Spotify suddenly started publishing transcripts of every podcast they index and it was therefore possible to read a podcast without ever registering a download or hearing an ad, would we find ourselves in a Luminary-style situation where creators want to opt out of the automatic transcripts? I really don’t know the answer to this, and I would stress that this is just my speculation — this situation hasn’t actually arisen yet. But since platforms are moving in the direction of using text to augment their search offerings, I don’t think it’s a million miles away.