Apple has now secured a patent in the United States that would allow the company to automatically replace and remove explicit audio content in music and audio books. The Apple applied for the patent, titled “Management, Replacement and Removal of Explicit Lyrics during Audio Playback,” in September 2014. While music audio is the first thing that comes to mind regarding explicit audio content, the same technology could be used for spoken audio like audio books and text-to-speech software.
With the new patent, Apple could censor entertainment content to allow the “clean” portions of audio tracks to remain intact with the explicit parts blanked out or replaced. Apple can already find the location of undesirable audio using metadata and with the new technology, the company could replace it with alternate audio, a beep, or silence. The technology could potentially be used with any audio players with the capability of detecting and reading a metadata track.
Previously, the most cost effective way for entertainment companies to avoid issues with explicit content was to avoid it altogether. For example, many radio stations and music streaming companies censor entertainment content by only playing the clean versions of songs. With the patent secured by Apple, this would no longer have to be the case with Apple products. Users may even have a choice of whether the wanted the clean or explicit version of the content.
The patent secured by Apple may also allow it to censor entertainment content in real time. The patent covers content analysis and screening just before playback and in real-time during playback by using hardware components or by separate software online. This has been compared to the techniques currently used by media companies that censor live radio or television broadcasts. No current Apple devices use this technology, but now that the patent has been approved, future use is possible.
While the possibility of Apple taking over the censoring of entertainment content with new technology is worrying to some critics, it doesn’t appear to be much different than what is already happening in the television industry. If users are indeed offered a choice of whether they want explicit content to be available on their devices, a backlash against Apple is unlikely. It remains to be seen how Apple will develop and implement this new technology.