Who owns your voice? Linguistic and legal perspectives on the relationship between vocal distinctiveness and the rights of the individual speaker


  • Dominic Watt University of York
  • Peter S. Harrison University of York
  • Lily Cabot-King University of York




Voice, intellectual property, copyright, fraud, speech technology


Only in very recent times has the concept of ‘ownership’ of a human voice begun to demand proper consideration in terms of its legal implications. The current lack of clarity with respect to the rights afforded to individuals and organisations in this area is something that must be addressed as a matter of some urgency, given that voice samples are now collected on an unprecedented scale, with or without the knowledge or consent of the person(s) who produced the captured speech. In this article we explore the issue of voice ownership from a variety of perspectives, starting with an attempt to define what the voice actually is, and then considering how representations of a talker’s voice at greater or lesser levels of concreteness (or ‘tangibility’) can be misappropriated and misused in unethical or unlawful ways.

Author Biographies

Dominic Watt, University of York

Dominic Watt is Senior Lecturer in Forensic Speech Science at the University of York, UK. His research interests include forensic linguistics and phonetics, speech perception, sociophonetics, dialectology, and language and identity studies. He is Co-Investigator on the UK Economic and Social Research Council-funded projects 'The Use and Utility of Localised Speech Forms in Determining Identity: Forensic and Sociophonetic Perspectives' (2016-19, ES/M010783/1) and 'Accent Bias and Fair Access in Britain' (2017-20, ES/P007767/1). He is co-editor of 'The Handbook of Dialectology' (Wiley, 2017) and 'Language and Identities' (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), and undertakes occasional forensic casework on behalf of JP French Associates, York.

Peter S. Harrison, University of York

Peter Harrison (FHEA, FRSA) is Lecturer in Law at York Law School, University of York, UK. His background is in physiology and pharmaceutical science, and he has PhDs in both pharmacology and law. He qualified as a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England & Wales in 1997, after which he worked in intellectual property (IP) litigation and exploitation in the UK and Canada, becoming practice head for IP at an international law firm. He is an elected Associate of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (UK). His main research interests lie at the interface between biological innovation and IP protection, with a focus on the justifiable scope of indigenous sui generis rights in traditional therapeutic knowledge and genetic resources to prevent their misappropriation. He is also active in research on the role of patents and other IP rights in the incentivisation and governance of technology innovation.

Lily Cabot-King, University of York

Lily Cabot-King graduated with an LLB from York Law School in 2018, with intellectual property as her final-year specialisation. Her dissertation research was on intellectual property of installation art. She was awarded the Tanya Walker Prize for Clinic by York Law School in 2017. The Hogan Lovells student enhancement activities funding she was awarded in 2018 supported the research she conducted for the present paper. Lily is bilingual in English and French.


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How to Cite

Watt, D., Harrison, P. S., & Cabot-King, L. (2020). Who owns your voice? Linguistic and legal perspectives on the relationship between vocal distinctiveness and the rights of the individual speaker. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 26(2), 137–180. https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.40571




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