Audiobook creation service Findaway Voices has become a popular alternative to Audible’s ACX, especially in the wake of #Audiblegate (the controversy over ACX’s author-penalizing returns policies that has generated at least one lawsuit).
In the past few days, though, authors and narrators have been drawing attention to this paragraph from Findaway’s Digital Distribution Agreement, which grants Apple–a third party–a license to use the rights holder’s audiobook files for “machine learning”, aka AI training:
This paragraph doesn’t appear to be a new addition: I’ve seen an agreement from September 2022 that includes it. But I can’t find anything to indicate when it may have been incorporated, or any discussion of it prior to a few days ago. (UPDATE: In the comments and also on social media, people are confirming that the paragraph was part of the agreement as far back as 2019.)
If you’ve been paying attention over the past couple of years to the increasingly intense debate over generative AI (algorithms that can generate humanlike content in response to prompts from users)–especially recently, as programs like DALL-E, Midjourney, and ChatGPT have been released to the public–you may be aware of the wide range of opinion on the benefits and dangers of this new technology, as well as its implications for the future.
For example, ChatGPT, a tool for creating text, can help a dyslexic business owner to compose well-written emails and scientists to improve research papers–but also raises the specter of academic cheating, writers replaced by machine-written books and articles, and the dissemination of false content–since ChatGPT and similar chatbots are text-creators but not fact-checkers, and can spit out erroneous answers or disinformation as convincingly as true and accurate responses.
In the creative industries, writers and artists are experimenting with ways of working with AI tools–but there’s also much concern about displacement. Voice actors and audiobook narrators worry about being supplanted by machine voices, like those in the catalog of AI-narrated books recently released by Apple. Artists and designers fear losing their livelihood to art-generating programs like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion that can create beautiful art in seconds, while the companies behind them make a fortune on new technology and publishers and others save a bundle by not employing humans.
There’s also–and importantly–the underlying issue of rights. Generative AI “learns” by ingesting massive amounts of whatever content it’s designed to mimic: chatbots scrape text from the internet, art generators gobble up millions of images, voice AI trains on human voices. All of that material has been created by humans, who in most cases never gave permission for such use. That’s obviously not an issue for content not covered by copyright–paintings by Renaissance artists or the poems of Edmund Spenser–but it’s not like the companies behind generative AI make that distinction. In-copyright work can be, and is, as readily scraped as anything else.
Unsurprisingly, there are now multiple lawsuits. Microsoft, Github, and Open AI are being sued for copyright-related issues over Github’s AI-powered coding assistant, Copilot. A group of artists has filed a class action suit against Stability AI (owner of Stable Diffusion), Midjourney, and DeviantArt for copyright violation and unlawful competition. Getty Images is also suing Stability AI, alleging that it scraped millions of copyright-protected images from Getty’s database. On a different side of the issue, computer scientist Steven Thaler is suing to overturn the US Copyright Office’s determination that AI art can’t be copyrighted. There will no doubt be much more legal action to come.
The above barely brushes the surface of this extremely complex and rapidly developing field (for a much deeper dive, see Jason Sanford’s article on what generative AI portends for artists and authors). It’s an altogether thorny tangle of questions: copyright, infringement, moral rights, fair use, the nature of creativity, and more. In terms of AI training, we may be seeing the emergence of a whole new class of rights that creators and their representatives will one day routinely negotiate into contracts. It’s reminiscent of the early days of ebooks, when some people argued that they weren’t really books at all, there was no consensus on contract language or royalty rates, and publishers were claiming that electronic rights weren’t separately salable but rather an additional print format grandfathered in under the existing rights grants in pre-digital publishing contracts.
Regardless, rights holders need to be fully informed–and properly compensated. And relative to that, Findaway Voices’ machine learning license poses several issues of concern.
- Rights holders are being asked to license their audio files for unlimited use–and, by implication, commercialization–by Apple, free of charge. Such licenses should be paid.
- Findaway’s narrator agreement includes no mention of machine learning. Narrators aren’t rights holders, unless they are authors narrating their own books: Findaway’s narrator agreement is work-for-hire. But in terms of knowing what you’re signing up for, having your voice used for AI training is an important data point, and it’s possible that some narrators might choose not to sign up with Findaway if they were aware of this requirement. It should be incorporated into the narrator agreement, or otherwise disclosed.
- The Findaway rights holder agreement is a strictly a distribution agreement: there’s no language empowering Findaway to license subsidiary rights to third parties. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening here: the licensing of a subsidiary right to Apple via the rights holder’s agreement with Findaway. Am I wrong in thinking that possibly presents legal questions?
- The machine learning clause should appear in the body of the agreement, rather than way down at the end under Program Policies (where, whether by accident or design, it very clearly can be easily missed). A rights license is hardly just a “program policy”.
As allowed by the license language, rights holders have been contacting Findaway to opt out. They receive this response:
As far as I know, no one has heard from Apple yet. Some writers are also trying to find out if ACX has a similar machine learning policy, but so far ACX isn’t playing.
The fact that the license has been included in Findaway’s distribution agreement for at least several months, but is only now generating discussion, really points up how important it is to read and understand every word of a contract before entering into it–even addendums.
I’ll be following the situation closely, and will post updates as I receive them.
UPDATE 2/14/23: Responding to questions from members, National Director for Audiobooks Jane Love and others from SAG-AFTRA met with Findaway Voices last week to discuss the machine learning clause. Here is their update, which reports some limited good news.
Over the last week or so, we’ve heard from a number of you regarding a clause in Findaway’s terms of service agreement with authors/license holders that authorized Apple to use the material for machine learning training and models unless the author/license holder specifically “opted out”. First, many thanks to all of you who brought this to our attention. We met with the Findaway team last week, outlined SAG-AFTRA’s position that performers’ voices may not be used beyond the distribution of the audiobook(s) they consent to narrate. Further, we made clear that any language attempting to acquire permission from performers or in this case the author/publisher for machine learning, or digital simulation, is unenforceable until bargained directly with SAG-AFTRA. And that the terms and conditions of these rights are mandatory subjects of bargaining. As such, we told them that we do not consider any such rights transferred. The dialogue was very positive, and we are pleased to report that Findaway and Apple immediately agreed to halt any/all use of files for machine learning purposes. This “halt” covers all files dating back to the beginning of this practice. We will now focus on bargaining with Findaway over fair terms around any future use of material for digital training purposes to include appropriate consent.
Further, we are seeking information from our other collective bargaining partners in this regard. And while we can’t say more given confidentiality, we can assure you that Audible/ACX has not granted any AI rights (including machine learning rights) to any party.
Finally, we saw a number of communications around this – blogs, social media posts etc that contain quite a lot of misinformation both around what was occurring and performers’ rights in this area. We would encourage you to be discerning consumers of online content, and to reach out to us with any concerns.
This is a challenge for sure, but together, we truly believe that we can continue to grow human storytelling in audiobooks while also embracing new technology. And SAG-AFTRA is here to protect you. We are doing this on multiple fronts, including collective bargaining, legal advocacy, legislation, and education.
On the collective bargaining side, we are continuing to work with our partners to negotiate the right contract for use of synthetic voices in audiobooks and are ready to negotiate in good faith with any outside company interested in licensing our members’ voices.
On the legal and legislative front, SAG-AFTRA tracks relevant cases, educates artists about existing image and voice rights (rights of publicity), and advocates for legislative improvements in image and voice rights as needed.
Thank you to all o the members of SAG-AFTRA whose membership and commitment to working under union contracts make these efforts possible.
In Unity, Jane Rich and Andrea
National Director, Audiobooks
UPDATE 3/2/23: The Authors Guild has added an AI training clause to the Grant of Rights section of its Model Contract, prohibiting publishers from using or licensing the works they publish for machine learning.
UPDATE 3/4/23: Today I was contacted by an author who just uploaded an audiobook to Findaway, and discovered that the distribution agreement still includes the machine learning clause. According to SAG-AFTRA, Findaway and Apple agreed to halt all use of files for machine learning purposes, a halt that “covers all files dating back to the beginning of this practice”–but while apparently halting use for files already shared with Apple, could this statement provide a loophole for the use of newly uploaded files?
Update on this – it seems it was a poorly worded reply. My audiobooks are still on Apple.
That’s good news, Eve. Thanks for reporting back.
Really appreciate the update – thanks Victoria.
Let’s fight the urge to be zealots. These days, negatives get the eyeballs, we love to worry when there is nothing to worry Lend me your eyes: read this, borrowed it from Kevin: This really is nothing the author community needs to be worried over. There’s nothing in this that infringes on the author’s copyright. No plagiarism, nothing untoward. You lose nothing and risk nothing. —Kevin Tumlison
That’s lovely for Kevin. Not so nice for the audiobook narrators whose jobs are under threat because our voices are being fed to the AI without our consent, and with no way for us to opt out except to ask authors to do it for us.
And if you think I’m exaggerating: I’ve already had at least one client pull out of an audiobook booking without explanation, only for me to spot an AI-narrated version of that book pop up a few weeks later.
It’s sad to say, but I don’t think that authors will be narrators’ ally as AI pushes deeper into the market. With how good the technology is (and it will only get better), the appeal for them is the same as for Apple and other big corporations: saving the money a human costs.
I think that will 100% depend on the author. Some will be happy to save a buck as they try to do with everything else in this industry. Others, however, will understand that the right voice is every bit as important to the success of an audiobook as the prose behind it.
As Kevin knows, I emphatically disagree. The issue isn’t infringement or plagiarism, but the sublicensing of audio files by Findaway Voices to a third party (Apple, which is using the files for a commercial purpose), without compensation to the rights holder. What authors lose: fair compensation for the use of their intellectual property. “Nothing to worry about” is just another way of telling creators they should shut up and go away.
Thank you for this very cogent summary of the issue.
@Sarah – I have no idea. But it is a noticeably different email to the one shown above, and I doubt that’s an accident. My interpretation is that my audiobooks will be removed from Apple. We’ll see.
Eve, please let us know. If opt out of machine language training means getting kicked off Apple entirely, that’s like, well…retaliation. Outrageous, if it happens.
Eve, wow! So they’re saying if we don’t accept the clause, we can’t distribute our audiobooks to Apple at all? Or is this just a poorly worded email from Findaway customer service? B/c we have the ability to opt out of distribution on any store via the Findaway site, so I’m not sure why they would make us email them to opt out of this specific clause when the clause could just say something like, “if you don’t agree to this, you must opt out of Apple distribution via your Findaway account.” I really hope they’re not forcing us to stop distributing on Apple altogether.
Rick – good to know. I confirmed this with Tantor as well, so I’m happy to hear we’re all getting the same answer on that front! And yes, this is definitely worth checking on with Podium and even big trad like Penguin Random House.
I wrote to Tantor, who publishes several of my audiobooks and also distributes through Findaway, to ask them their opinion on this. According to them, they are under a separate distribution agreement with Findaway Voices, one that doesn’t have a clause regarding allowing their books to be used for AI learning. So, that’s good. I’d probably recommend anyone using a 3rd party publisher like them or Podium do the same.
As for ACX, I’m not sure how they can refuse to disclose this as a yes/no answer, considering this is a granted right from the rights holders, not them. Love to say I’m surprised that they’re being obtuse, but sadly I am not.
Thanks, Rick–this is good to know.
Just received this from Findaway:
Thank you for your request. Your audiobooks have been opted out with Apple, per the Machine Learning clause in the distribution agreement.
THE FINDAWAY VOICES CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE TEAM
So it seems the update to this is if you’re on Apple, you’re in their AI program. If you want out of AI, they’ll kick you off their platform altogether.
I regularly download Terms of Service type contracts like Findaways — I have one dated back to 2019, which still has the Machine Language paragraph (tucked into an Appendix, which is outrageous, as you rightly point out). I read the body of that contract multiple times… and missed that paragraph because it was tucked into an Appendix about hate speech that I didn’t think would ever concern me. And apparently most other folks missed it as well.
Anyway, just wanted to let you know this has been in the contract since 2019, which tells me Findaway has been letting Apple train on our audiobooks since at least then.
Thank you for posting about this! I’m an author with 14 audiobook titles distributed through Findaway, and this is very important to me. The earliest contract I have with them is from October 2020, and this clause is included, so it’s possible it goes back even earlier than that.
There are a couple of other issues worth mentioning:
– Narrators outside of Findaway’s marketplace are also impacted. E.g., I contract all of my narrators directly, and I only use Findaway for distribution of my finished audio. So my narrators have no agreement/contract with Findaway and no way to opt out of this clause.
– Findaway updates its licensing agreement multiple times each year. We have no idea if this clause will continue to be included and if so, whether we will need to re-submit a license revocation by email every time we accept a new license. This creates a loophole and another potential problem – see the next point.
– Since the license is granted the moment we accept the agreement, and then must be revoked by email after the fact, and then Findaway must send our revocation email to Apple to process, there is a window of time where the license – which is an automatic opt-in until the revocation email is processed by both Findaway and Apple – is active, and our titles are opted in. Once our titles are in the machine learning system, the damage is done. This goes back to the point above – if this clause is part of the agreement every time a new agreement is posted, the titles that we’ve previously opted out will be opted back in by the new agreement, even for this brief window described.
I’ve written to Findaway for clarification about these points but haven’t heard back.
These are really great points, Sarah–thanks for weighing in.