Starling believes that Findaway misused the material he was entrusted with by the writers and narrators. “It’s immoral and illegal,” Starling told WIRED, “the copyright holders only have the copyright to produce the audiobook, they don’t claim the voice of the narrator.” It is suspending the release of three upcoming games that it planned to distribute through Findaway.
Interest in automating the art of storytelling in books has grown in recent years for business and technology reasons. Audiobook revenues continued to grow even as book and e-book revenues fell and synthetic voice technology improved dramatically. A a set of tools which allow anyone to clone voices for synthetic storytelling with a single click, but companies still need massive amounts of data to promote them.
In industries such as entertainment and games, contracts requiring voice actors allow tech companies to train their AI models to create a digital narrative for their work. are becoming more commonsays Tim Friedlander, President of the National Voice Actors Association of America. Adobe, maker of Photoshop and other imaging software, recently launched learning your own AI algorithms about the work of visual creatives, if they haven’t given up.
“Voice is what voice actors do for a living,” Friedländer added, “and it’s literally ripping words out of our mouths without our consent.”
Google started offering free synthetic narration for books in 2020. When Apple announced By launching its own suite of digital audiobook speakers in January, the company said it hopes to eliminate the “cost and complexity” that can come with creating an audiobook with narration for smaller publishers and independent authors. The company’s Books app lists titles with AI narration as “told by a digital voice based on a human narrator.”
Apple has been using synthetic voice technology for years, including for the Siri virtual assistant, driving directions, and accessibility features. But some authors and storytellers suspect that audio recordings from their e-books have helped the company hone its technology for the daunting task of scoring books. The length of audiobooks, the complexity of the material, and the impressive skills of talented storytellers make voicing books perhaps the most challenging task for synthetic voice technology.
The application of synthetic voices to books also brings new challenges to business and culture. “Most of the companies developing these AI technologies are in the tech sector, not the entertainment sector,” says SAG-AFTRA’s Love. “They lack the relationships, advocacy history, and confidence in approval rights that voice actors expect.”
Several authors told WIRED that Findaway has established itself as a trusted distributor offering lucrative audiobook deals on multiple platforms. But they also say that Findaway often prompts people to agree to updated agreements, usually with minor changes, when they log into their accounts. In 2019, the company added a machine learning clause to its distribution agreements.
Many suspect they signed the machine learning clause without realizing it. “It’s my fault that I didn’t initially see this addition and what it really meant,” says Laura VanArendonk Baugh, a writer from Indianapolis, Indiana. “But the accommodation was pretty mean too.”