UK’s Society of Authors: More Clarity in Spotify’s Terms

In News by Porter Anderson

Changes in Spotify’s terms of use for its Findaway Voices audiobook products trigger concerns from the Society of Authors in London.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Paulo Paradiso

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘We Are Still Concerned With the Wording’
As some in the international book publishing industry know, authors in the United Kingdom earlier this month reported that the audiobook distributor Findaway Voices by Spotify had made a “big climbdown” from what writers had interpreted to be, as one put it to Publishing Perspectives, an effort “to help themselves to authors’ rights.”

Some of the initially alarmed authors felt that their complaints had been heard by Findaway in that “big climbdown.” Other observers seemed less sure that the changes perceived in the company’s terms of use were as inappropriate as some of the authors believed they were. One suggested that writers “just don’t understand legal-speak within the industry.”

The UK’s trade union for writers, the 12,400-member Society of Authors has issued a statement today (February 22) from its London offices, saying, “The new terms gave Findaway Voices a range of new rights over creators’ works, including permission to ‘create derivative works’ from the audiobooks posted by creators to the platform—without their consent or remuneration—and included a blanket waiver of moral rights.”

As authors had recounted, the society says that Spotify at one point apparently acknowledged that there was confusion over the language in its terms of use and published a revised edition of a part of their terms of use, which are seen here.

“However,” the Society of Authors’ media messaging says, “while we welcome Spotify’s acknowledgement of the issue and attempt to address it, we are still concerned with the wording. The terms of use still refer to usage of audiobooks for ‘training’ in connection with the ‘promotion’ and ‘marketing’ of the Spotify service.”

‘We Urge Spotify To Make It Explicitly Clear’

Of course that word training catches many eyes in this era of new attention to AI’s large language models.

“We urge Spotify to make it explicitly clear in their terms of use that no works will be used in the development any type of generative artificial intelligence model or product without creators’ permission.”Society of Authors

“We urge Spotify to make it explicitly clear in their terms of use that no works will be used in the development any type of generative artificial intelligence model or product without creators’ permission,” the society’s administration writes. And it goes on to say that there’s too much room left for “interpretation,” if you will, even in the newly revised language.

“We are pleased to see confirmation that the terms of use do not authorize Spotify to use audiobooks to ‘create a new book, ebook, or audiobook, or to use user content to create a new, machine-generated voice without your permission,” the society writes. “However, [Spotify’s] wording is too broad.

“Spotify must reinforce it to make clear [that] it covers all types of derivative works, including, for instance, podcasts.”

This latest issue comes only a few months after we raised concerns about the lack of communication from publishers with authors and agents about the streaming deals that ‘all major book publishers’ have signed with Spotify.”

At the time of that complaint (our story is from October 11), the union laid out a list of its requirements in seeing publishers enter deals with Spotify after what the writers’ corps indicated had been silence from Spotify with authors.

The society’s demand then is reinforced now, asserting that publishers must:

  • “Inform their authors and agents with full transparency about the deals they have negotiated, to seek permission in full respect of their right not to give permission and to remove their books from the Spotify catalogue.
  • “Negotiate an appropriate share of the receipts on a clear and equitable payment model, which should equate to no less than the amount that would be received from a sale of the same audiobook.
  • “Ensure that with all licenses that Spotify applies frictions, as with e-lending, such as time limited loans and guarantees of payment, whatever proportion of the book is read.
  • “Ensure that licenses are time limited and should not allow sublicensing or use on other platforms.
  • “Indemnify authors if the unauthorized use conflicts with existing film or other such deals, or if it leads to claims of copyright infringement by rights holders of quotations or images included in that.
  • “Ensure that licenses include safeguards to prevent pirating of authors’ and narrators’ works and voices including for use in AI systems.”

Today, the Society of Authors reminds writers, “We continue to encourage authors to adapt and send our template letter to their publishers to ask for clarification on what the deals will mean for them.”

A Programming Note

From left are Glenn Rollans, Maria A. Pallante, Dan Conway, and Nicola Solomon

At  2:15 p.m. GMT, on March 12, four key players will join us when Publishing Perspectives moderates a Main Stage discussion, Copyright and AI: A Global Discussion of Machines, Humans, and the Law, an advanced-level conversation exploring the risks and opportunities within the rapidly evolving ecosystem in an era of artificial intelligence.

The session will feature:


More from Publishing Perspectives on audiobooks is here, more on the Society of Authors is here, more on copyright is here, more on Spotify is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s publishing industry is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.