Audiobook narrators complain Apple may have used them to train AI voices

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2023

Customers of Spotify's audiobook narration firm say that they were not adequately informed of a contract clause that they agreed to, that ultimately allowed Apple to use their voices in its AI training.




Apple quietly released a range of audio Apple Books in early January 2023, which were narrated by voices entirely generated by Artificial Intelligence. Publishers and professional voice actors objected that this was removing a major source of income, but Apple claimed it was still committed to artists.

Specifically, Apple said that the new AI audiobooks were only done for titles where it was not economic to hire an actor. So that would be low-circulation ones such as textbooks, small presses, and self-published titles.

Now according to Wired, voiceover artists and authors working with a company called Findaway have complained about Apple using them to train their own AI replacements.

Findaway is effectively a self-publishing audio company that is owned by Spotify, where authors pay to have audiobooks produced. As yet, it appears that no actors working for traditionally published titles -- where the audiobook is produced by the publisher without a charge to the author -- have complained.

In the case of Spotify's Findaway, however, authors and also voice actors have complained about the clause which gave Apple the rights to "use audiobook files for machine learning training and models."

"It feels like a violation to have our voices being used to train something for which the purpose is to take our place," Andy Garcia-Ruse, a narrator, told the publication.

It's not clear when this clause was added, as the authors and actors say it was not explicitly pointed out to them when they signed updated agreements. Findaway was bought by Spotify in June 2022.

Actors' union steps in



Such are the complaints about the contract clause that the actors' union, SAG-AFTRA has reportedly become involved. Jane Love, the union's national director for audiobooks, said that SAG-AFTRA is "still working with Findaway toward a solution that recognizes the union's concerns."

Those concerns include the "safe storage of the recordings and data, usage limitations, and appropriate compensation."

While Findaway, Spotify, and Apple have all yet to comment publicly, SAG-AFTRA has confirmed to its members that the practice has been stopped. Findaway and Apple have reportedly agreed to immediately cease all "use of files for machine learning purposes," for union members.

It applies retrospectively, too, with SAG-AFTRA saying this halt covers "all files dating back to the beginning of this practice." It is not clear, however, how Apple could implement that without removing at least many AI-narrated audiobooks from sale.

Regardless of whether an author or actor is part of the union, their contract with Findaway reportedly includes the option to revoke the option allowing Apple's use of their work. Author Isobel Starling says she immediately requested the exercise of that right, and Findaway responded saying that it had submitted her request to Apple.

However, another narrator, Gary Furlong, said that Findaway had yet to respond to his own request.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,783member
    While Findaway, Spotify, and Apple have all yet to comment publicly, SAG-AFTRA has confirmed to its members that the practice has been stopped
    Likely because the training of the AI is done. It doesn’t take that long. They will likely adjust things and tweak them down the road, but the damage is done now. The AIs have been trained, and are in place. 


    williamlondonkillroylolliver
  • Reply 2 of 10
    Not sure if i understand it correctly - they signed a contract and now they complain about what they signed? That no one told them specifically what each paragraph meant? Well, if i don’t understand something i am reading in a contract, i either ask the one who handed me the contract, or i can of course ask some lawyer to consult. And of course pay for the advice… that’s what my logic would said to me…
    williamhkillroydiman80lolliverjeffharrisradarthekatmobirddavtdknox
  • Reply 3 of 10
    I'm a NYT bestselling author and I'm also a professional narrator.  I've voiced two of my own audiobooks and both are available via Findaway.

    The SAG and voice freelancers are obviously upset because increasing reliance on AI will effectively end their careers.  As Riverko says, they ought to have read the contract before they signed.

    The same thing has happened over the past couple of decades in the broadcast industry.  Broadcasters like me grew up working for one radio station; today, my best friend runs nine stations at once.

    Genuine broadcast and narrating talent will be a thing of the past in another generation.  Whether that's a good thing depends, I suppose, on the number of people who benefit from the demise of quality voice work.
    edited February 2023 lolliverjeffharrisdav
  • Reply 4 of 10

    ...  Whether that's a good thing depends, I suppose, on the number of people who benefit from the demise of quality voice work.
    That's evolution.
    radarthekat
  • Reply 5 of 10
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,783member
    .Genuine broadcast and narrating talent will be a thing of the past in another generation. 
    Along with artists, animators, musicians, and yes even writers. 

    Wasn’t the idea that robots would free people from drudgery so they would have time for art, music, and writing, not the robots doing the art leaving the drudgery for poorly paid people?
    davgatorguy
  • Reply 6 of 10
    AI, ML, neural are here to advance. Supposed to be taking care of mundane and dangerous tasks. Just get in to new vehicles specially EV, few buttons to fiddle, with some voice command to assist the drivers. Eventually robots will be slaving us humans if we’re not careful.
  • Reply 7 of 10
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,828moderator
    DAalseth said:
    .Genuine broadcast and narrating talent will be a thing of the past in another generation. 
    Along with artists, animators, musicians, and yes even writers. 

    Wasn’t the idea that robots would free people from drudgery so they would have time for art, music, and writing, not the robots doing the art leaving the drudgery for poorly paid people?
    Once the robots get bored with painting, composing and narrating they will come for the drudgery too.  Probably first to fall will be fitness coaches and personal trainers.  
  • Reply 8 of 10
    I wouldn’t even think any kind of permission was necessary. Apple could purchase (legally acquire) the audiobooks and play them for AI to learn. What could even be done about that?
  • Reply 9 of 10
    chasmchasm Posts: 3,233member
    I wouldn’t even think any kind of permission was necessary. Apple could purchase (legally acquire) the audiobooks and play them for AI to learn. What could even be done about that?
    Lots, with the right lawyers.

    While there’s no formal contract included with a copyrighted book, civil law suggests that if you’re going to do something with a work that the creator did not intend (other than protected uses like criticism or parody), you are probably violating the author’s rights and most certainly the publisher’s rights if you do not seek permission and/or pay compensation.
  • Reply 10 of 10
    I was quoted at the end of this article without a source, so I'd like to confirm that, yes, I did submit my request to Findaway Voices to have my titles removed from Apple's machine learning program. They responded to say the request had been sent to Apple. However, I never recieved any responses to any questions about the uses my IP was put to, or if my audiobooks were ever used to train their AI voice app. Six months later the errant clause is still in the contract and both authors and narrators have no proof that our audiobooks were removed from this program. 
    As an author I commission a narrator to perform my books. I own the copyright of the book and the narration. I do not have any rights to the narrators voice, therefore, I cannot give permission for his voice to be assigned for any third-party use. What we've seen from Apple is a predatory rights grab, racing to gather as much content for training as they can before a legal framework is decided internationally for LLM. Apple are now trialing their AI audiobook app via Draft2Digital- and again authors are being used to further the evolution of their training data by having their manuscripts harvested for machine learning after signing up to 'trial' the Apple AI app.
    As for those in this forum who said 'you should have read the contract'. When uploading an audiobook for distribution via Findaway Voices we are asked to click on a box to say we agree to the contract contents. The contract contents can be changed at any time- say, they're no longer working with a particular distribution site, or they've got a new distribution partner. We're not informed or asked to re-sign the updated contract. This is how Findaway Voices and Apple slid this nefarious clause onto page 18 of the contract.
    gatorguy
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