WTF?! Apple has recently started a new program to sell audiobooks with AI-based voiceover, where the algorithmic voice is seemingly based on real actors’ performances. The actors didn’t know about it and now their union is stepping in.
Apple promised to bring innovation, quality and money to the audio books marketplace with a new catalog of titles created with AI-based voices. However, the Cupertino giant has now been accused of using real voice recordings with no proper authorization from the original performers.
The heart of the problem here is Findaway Voices, an audiobook distributor which was recently acquired by Spotify. According to disgruntled narrators, Findaway gave Apple permission to use its audiobook files to train the machine learning model employed for the new “robotic” audio books program.
It seems voice actors didn’t know about the clause, and they are now lamenting the fact that Findaway didn’t inform them properly about the issue. Andy Garcia-Ruse, a narrator from Kansas City, said Findaway’s behavior felt like “a violation” as the company was essentially using his voice to train something designed to take his place.
The dispute reached a new level when SAG-AFTRA, the labor union representing about 160,000 US actors, journalists and voice narrators, got involved. According to Jane Love, SAG-AFTRA’s national director for the audiobook market, the organization is “still working with Findaway toward a solution that recognizes the union’s concerns.”
Aside from the unclear clause that gave Findaway the right to essentially sell off voice performances to Apple, SAG-AFTRA is also concerned about the way the involved companies have managed the actual audio files, their (hypothetical) usage limitations, and “appropriate compensation” for voice artists.
For the time being, SAG-AFTRA confirmed to its members that the murky AI-training practice has been halted. Findaway and Apple aren’t using the union members’ audio files for training machine learning models anymore, and this covers all the files “dating back to the beginning of this practice” as well. How Apple will be able to keep offering AI-based audiobooks already on sale is still a mystery, however.
Furthermore, Findaway contracts seemingly provide voice actors the right to revoke the clause that gives Apple access to their own work. Authors such as Isobel Starling already requested that, and the company said that a removal request was sent to Cupertino.