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Society of Authors Challenges Spotify’s Audiobook Policies

By Julia Fitzpatrick

A fierce debate has emerged concerning controversial audiobook policies introduced by the streaming platform Spotify. On 15 February, Spotify updated the Terms of Use for its audiobook service, Findaway Voices. The new clause stipulated that audiobook rights holders grant Spotify the right to “make available, perform and display, translate, modify, create derivative works from, distribute and otherwise use” all audiobook content. Following widespread outrage from authors, Spotify revised these terms on 16 February, removing the reference to the creation of “derivative works.” Spotify also published an explanatory blog post, assuring authors that their audiobooks would not be used “to create a new, machine-generated voice.”

Despite these adjustments, Findaway’s Terms of Use remain deeply unpopular with authors. On 22 February, a statement was released by the Society of Authors (SoA): a literary trade union with 12,400 members. The SoA’s Policy Team announced that they were “deeply concerned” about the wording of the audiobook guidelines. Acknowledging that the Terms of Use did not authorise the use of generative AI to create “a new book, eBook or audiobook” out of user content, the statement sought clarification that this protection “covers all types of derivative works, including […] podcasts.” The statement specifically queried the clause which enables Spotify to use audiobook content for training and marketing purposes, demanding assurances “that no works will be used in the development of any type of generative artificial intelligence model or product without creators’ permission.”

The Society of Authors also contextualised the issue in relation to a general “lack of communication” over streaming deals, which all the UK’s major publishers entered into in October 2023, making 150,000 audiobooks available to Spotify Premium subscribers. The deals were criticized at the time for the absence of author consultation. Spotify responded to these criticisms at the end of January 2024, saying that it has paid audiobook publishers “tens of millions” in royalties since introducing the new streaming model. Nevertheless, the lack of transparency about compensation mechanisms has attracted considerable suspicion, with the SoA pointing out that they are “still waiting to see the effect on author incomes and whether these are real additional sales or simply take market share from Amazon.”

The Society of Authors has encouraged members to seek clarification from their publishers on what the Spotify streaming deals “will mean for them” by adapting and sending their template letter.



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