The Many Hats of Indie Authors

You may think that you can publish a book and be done with it. As Spotify's recent overreach shows, that's a dangerous mindset.
Mar | 4 | 2024
  Mar | 4 | 2024
BY Phil Simon
  Phil Simon

The Many Hats of Indie Authors

You may think that you can publish a book and be done with it. As Spotify's recent overreach shows, that's a dangerous mindset.
Phil Simon
Mar | 4 | 2024

The Many Hats of Indie Authors

TL;DR: You may think that you can publish a book and be done with it. As Spotify's recent overreach shows, that's a dangerous mindset.
Phil Simon
Mar | 4 | 2024

Indie authors wear an array of hats: primary writer, coordinator, marketer, counterfeit book police, website developer, and chief product officer are just a few of them. For lack of a better term, add lawyer or at least paralegal as another.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, Spotify’s Findaway Voices announced the following changes to its terms of service:

Accordingly, you hereby grant Spotify a non-exclusive, transferable, sublicensable, royalty-free, fully paid, irrevocable, worldwide license to reproduce, make available, perform and display, translate, modify, create derivative works from (such as transcripts of User Content), distribute, and otherwise use any such User Content through any medium, whether alone or in combination with other Content or materials, in any manner and by any means, method or technology, whether now known or hereafter created, in connection with the Service, the promotion, advertising or marketing of the Service, and the operation of Spotify’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including for systems and products management, improvement and development, testing, training, modeling and implementation in connection with the Spotify Service. Where applicable and to the extent permitted under applicable law, you also agree to waive, and not to enforce, any “moral rights” or equivalent rights, such as your right to object to derogatory treatment of such User Content. Nothing in these Terms prohibits any use of User Content by Spotify that may be taken without a license.

Let’s parse through the deliberate legalese and the Proust-esque 115-word first sentence. No one would read it and call it subtle. The phrase land grab comes to mind.

I’m no attorney, but waiving one’s moral rights hardly seems inconsequential or benign. After all, their purpose is to “is to attribute the author of a work and protect their reputation.” Why the fuck would any self-respecting waive them sans compensation? After all, Findaway/Spotify is not paying authors to create proprietary content, à la Joe Rogan. It is merely distributing existing authors’ content. That’s no semantic difference; it’s a chasm.

But Wait. There’s More.

Authors’ concerns shouldn’t stop there, as the folks on Writer Beware point out. As regards the Findaway/Spotify announcement:

  • The license is non-exclusive, but it is irrevocable: Spotify’s right to use (and, potentially, to profit from) your material can’t be terminated, even if you close your account and remove your audiobooks from the platform.
  • The license is royalty-free. If Spotify does profit from the license, there is no compensation to you.
  • Multiple subsidiary rights appear to be granted by this clause, including foreign language versions (“translate”), abridgements and excerpts (“modify”), and the creation of “derivative works”. Only one example of a derivative work is mentioned–transcripts–but since there’s nothing to say what “derivative” doesn’t include, much else could be covered by this language, such as new works based on the existing work or AI duplication of the narrator’s voice.

Shame on you, Daniel Ek.

Outrage from both authors and narrators was fast and furious, causing Findaway/Spoitify to walk back its absurd, unethical, unilateral, and possibly illegal change. Sadly, it’s not the first time that the company has napalmed its bridge with authors and narrators. Twenty bucks says that it won’t be the last, either.

AI Weighs in

Here’s what Google’s Bard Gemini had to say about Spotify’s new language:

Here’s the money quote:

Basically, anything you upload becomes Spotify’s property to use as they see fit. They can even modify it and create new things from it. You also give up your right to complain if they use your content in a way you don’t like.

If that doesn’t terrify an indie author, I don’t know what would.

What You Need to Know

First, using AI tools doesn’t make you a lawyer. (The Nine contains an example of a clown who made that mistake in court.) It can, however, help you quickly translate intentionally vague, poorly written prose into plain terms. Second and most important for our purposes, you may think that you can publish a book and be done with it.

Think again.

If you care about your intellectual property (and you damn well should), then it behooves you to pay attention to announcements from unscrupulous companies trying to sneak one past the goalie. Better yet, join a trade association like the Authors Guild. A group advocating on your behalf on issues like this is worth a modest annual fee.

I will most likely move my three most recent audiobooks from Findaway to Author’s Republic. I suspect that it will take a few days for the books to hit Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Google Play, and other sites/apps.

Shame on you, Daniel Ek.

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