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About the Host
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Read the Transcripts to Self-Publishing News: Hollywood Writers' Strike
Dan Holloway: Hello and welcome to the first October Self-Publishing News.
Term has just started here in Oxford, which means everything has suddenly gone frantic and frenetic, added to which the heavens seem to have opened, so who knows what background noises we will have from students and rains alike.
The big news at the end of last week was that the Hollywood Writers Strike is finally over.
Just for clarification, of course there were two big strikes affecting the film industry. The Hollywood Writers Strike was one. The other was the Screen Actors Guild. The actor’s strike is still ongoing, but the writers’ strike has been resolved and agreement has been reached, and I'll have a look at some of the details of that agreement.
One of the big concerns the writers have been having is the use of AI in the process of producing for screen and film, specifically whether or not AI would reduce, either the role or the number of roles, available for humans in the creative process in the screen industry.
So, one of the concerns was that writers might end up essentially as polishers. So, AI would generate this massive script that's an idea, rather as we've seen PassiveGuy did some fantastic experiments, basically asking AI to write first chapters in the style of certain authors. So, this body of work would be produced, and then the role of the humans would be to polish what was produced, essentially the finishes on a car production line.
Another knock-on effect of this, obviously, is that there would be fewer actual people involved. So, not only would it be less interesting work, less creative work, but there would be fewer people doing it.
One of the areas this really mattered in was the writer's room. For most series, as you are probably aware, they aren't written by a writer, they are written by a very large team of writers, and this is why you can get 13-episodes or 26-episode series and have them come out every year, because there is a big team of writers ensuring that high-quality content gets produced and ensuring that it's all on time, there are no continuity errors, it all has the right flavour, the right feel, the beats are right for the particular length of Episode and so on.
There was a worry that those writers’ rooms would be reduced to a rump of a few writers. So, that has been addressed. There are guarantees of minimum numbers of writers now on series depending upon the number of episodes for that series.
What's really interesting is the third issue that writers were striking about, which is residuals. So, residuals are the royalties paid for repeat showings.
One of the things that has happened with the advent of streaming is it has become harder to keep a track of what payments are owed to the original creators of material that is then streamed and repeatedly streamed. It's not like a repeat showing on mainstream TV where you get paid per repeat, and there was a worry that the whole streaming industry was leading to lower and lower rewards for writers over a longer period of time. This obviously matters to us because streaming is increasingly the way that people like to consume creative works of all kinds, whether that's audio or whether it's reading.
This is part of the dispute where the industry came down heavily on the writer's side, is probably the fairest way to put it. When it comes to calculating income from streaming, this would be calculated in a way that accounted for a much larger percentage of the overall streams, including overseas. There would also be larger payments up front to account for those bits that couldn't be accounted for later in the process.
Apologies for any distraction, that was, as I promised, screaming students in the corridor.
Anyway, the issue of residuals seems to have been resolved for now. The streaming industry isn't going to be allowed, at least in Hollywood, to massively reduced the payments to writers.
That sort of segues nicely into the second story, which is around Spotify, because obviously Spotify is the company that has become synonymous with low income from streaming. You may have seen the Sigrate series on Netflix, called The Playlist. The Playlist basically tells the Spotify story from a number of different perspectives, including the artists whose music may not be doing so well as a result of the streaming music business, as well as the perspective of its founder, Daniel Ek. Now Ek is a fascinating character, and he is clearly very keen on AI.
Two really interesting developments in the past week have been the announcement that he is going to use AI to translate podcasts into different languages. This is a way ostensibly of reaching greater audiences, but of course, without the need for human intervention in terms of voice actors doing the actual translating. What's really interesting about this is that the voices in the podcast will retain apparently the characteristics of the people who are speaking. So, it will be interesting to see how that works. Whatever language you're listening in, it seems you will listen to someone speaking in the same accent, thanks to the wonders of AI. So, I'm sure that's something that is going to be featuring on some writer’s agendas in the next few weeks, as to how they might go about utilizing technology like that.
He's also refused to rule out the use of AI-generated music on Spotify. So, you may remember that Spotify removed several tracks that had purported to be by other artists, best-selling artists like Drake had fake versions of their songs uploaded that had been created by AI, and Spotify had absolutely rightly removed these.
But this, it seems, is more about the impersonation than the use of the AI technology itself, and Ek has said that he is definitely not thinking about removing AI-generated content from Spotify.
In another interesting interconnection that issue of people passing works off as somebody else's has hit the news again in the book world this week. You may remember over the summer, Jane Friedman, very publicly discovered that people have been passing off works as being written by her.
Amazon did nothing about this until she went public with it, and then they very quickly allowed her to remove the books or to have the books removed. The really interesting point there was that they had originally claimed that she couldn't prove she hadn't written the books. So, that's feels like a rather torturous enforcement of terms and conditions.
This issue hasn't gone away though. This week it's famous BBC presenter in the UK, Rory Kethlyn Jones, who's probably best known for his technology broadcasts, ironically. He has discovered that Amazon has been selling all sorts of books that claim to be written by him and clearly aren't, and as he put it, they're basically rubbish, they're generated by AI, they aren't actually meaningful books in any way, shape or form, let alone books that he has created.
This is clearly something that's going to keep on coming back, and Amazon clearly hasn't found a way fully to deal with this yet. We know that they have been making changes. So, they've changed the number of books you can upload in a day. They're requiring people to declare the use of generative AI.
But it seems that there are still lots of books getting through the net, and some of these are by people claiming to be famous writers or other celebrities, clearly as a way of drawing people in, clickbait, SEO, getting people to read books they wouldn't otherwise read, and profiting off someone else's name pfft.
It will be very interesting to see where this goes legally if any of these are taken to court. In particular, in the light of the Digital Services Act which we've covered here, and the requirement that Amazon as a very large online platform, as the technical term goes, is fully responsible for the content on its site and needs to be transparent about where that content comes from.
The long and the short of that is, I imagine, expect new and possibly quite onerous rules to come out at some point requiring us to demonstrate we are who we say we are, so that Amazon can in turn demonstrate to the regulators that the people using it are who they say they are.
Finally on the subject of AI, we are still unclear about exactly how much danger there is from copyright law to people who are using AI.
All the cases we've been talking about so far, there are clear criminal activities going on, but it's not always clear that these activities are a breach of copyright law.
This has led this week, Getty Images to produce what they call a gallery of copyright-safe images. So, these are images where, if you use them, they guarantee that you won't get into trouble for copyright because they haven't been trained, or the program that produces them hasn't been trained on anyone's work without their consent. So, you can use these without worrying that you're treading on anyone's feet.
If you believe that copyright is an issue in cases like this, as I've mentioned before it's not clear whether using AI that has been trained on images that someone hasn't given permission for is a legal infringement of copyright, but many of us obviously have very strong views on the morality of doing so. If that matters to you, you may want to discuss when drawing up a contract with your cover designer whether or not you want to insist that they use images from copyright-safe galleries like this. But what this does is it means that option is now there for you.
Then finally this week, the rather sad news that Nicola Solomon is stepping down next spring as the CEO of the Society of Authors in the UK. Nicola has been in charge of the Society of Authors for most of my time as an indie. She took up her post in 2011 and has presided over a real change in relationships between traditionally published and self-published writers.
So, the Society of Authors was traditionally rather exclusive, it's still not welcoming everybody with open arms, there's still criteria you have to meet, but things have definitely changed. They have recognized the importance of Indies in the literary scene quite significantly.
Many of their prizes are open to us. The Petit Trasque Award, for example, and recently they appointed their first Indie representative to the society which was ALLi's own Margaret Skea.
So yes, Nicola has presided over some really positive changes, and I'm incredibly grateful to her for that, and for all the work the society does, a lot of it alongside the work that Orna and others here at ALLi do, and the fact that they have been willing to collaborate on a number of campaigns is also a positive thing.
I wish Nicola all the best, and obviously I'm very hopeful that her successor will take things even further in that direction. Thank you for listening. If you are interested, we expect the advert for the new CEO of the Society of Authors to come out sometime in October. So, keep your eyes peeled.