Friday, February 16, 2024

Authors, how will the new Spotify/Findaway terms of use affect you and your audiobooks? A non-legal understanding and interpretation

Spotify terms of use

Hey everyone! I haven't written in a while, but I saw this news about Findaway Voices's new terms of use making the rounds on social media with regards to Spotify and wanted to throw in my two cents to hopefully clarify some things or at least present my (non-legal) understanding of it.

Note, the "new" Spotify terms of use actually went into effect on 8 November, 2023, but the Findaway terms might only just be starting to update.

To make things easier, here's the TL;DR version if you don't want to read the whole thing:

Spotify updated their terms on November 8th. I know the instinct may be to panic, but take a deep breath. As a precaution, make sure you have backups of your audiobook files outside Spotify. Options:
  • Request original files from your narrator
  • See if Findaway lets you download the files
  • Save to cloud storage like Google Drive
  • Local backups on an external hard drive
Retaining access to your files puts power back in your hands as the creator. Now, onto the key points about Spotify's new terms:
You still own the copyright to content you post, but grant Spotify a license to use it to operate their service. This includes displaying, modifying, promoting your content. But the license is limited - tied to providing Spotify, not anything they want.
For example, Spotify could translate your English audiobook to German to reach more listeners. But you'd remain the copyright owner, and the German version would only be on Spotify.
Ultimately, diversify where you publish. You have the power to adapt and make the best choices for sharing your work. All the best with whatever you decide. xoxo

Before I start and dive into the new terms, I'd like to say, I know the instinct may be to react and immediately pull your audiobooks off Spotify/Findaway Voices. But take a deep breath - this doesn't have to be done in haste.

However, as a wise precaution, I would suggest looking into ensuring you have all your audiobook files safely backed up and accessible outside of Spotify. Here are some options to consider:
  • Request the original files from your narrator if you don't already have them saved. Most will keep the raw recordings for a period of time.
  • See if Findaway provides an option to download the final audiobook files they produced for distribution. Many aggregation services allow authors to access the files.
  • Save the files to a secure cloud storage like Google Drive or Dropbox so you have a remote copy. Local backups on an external hard drive are also smart in case of internet outages.

Having ready access to your audiobook files and backups of them puts power back in your hands as the creator. While third-party platforms make distribution convenient, it's wise to retain control of your intellectual property.

Okay, on to the meat of this post...

Terms of use

As many of you know, Spotify recently changed their terms of service, specifically how it affects audiobooks. I'm only going to focus on this one particular section and how it impacts anyone who distributes their audiobooks to Spotify, either directly or through a service like Findaway.

Here's what Spotify's new terms say:

Licenses that you grant us
User Content
You retain ownership of your User Content when you post it to the Service. However, in order for us to make your User Content available on the Spotify Service and to provide you with certain features and functions, we do need a limited license from you to that User Content. Accordingly, you hereby grant to Spotify a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, fully paid, irrevocable, worldwide license to reproduce, make available, perform and display, translate, modify, create derivative works from, 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. 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 be identified as the author of any User Content, including Feedback, and your right to object to derogatory treatment of such User Content. This clause does not otherwise modify Spotify's obligation to use your User Content in accordance with the licence above.

Before I continue, here's my small disclaimer. THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Just so we're clear, I don't have any legal training - I'm not a lawyer, nor have I studied law. The explanations I provide about the Spotify terms are based on how I understand them as a regular person, not a professional legal analysis. When it comes to copyright laws and your actual rights, it's best to double check with a lawyer who specializes in entertainment and IP. Legal agreements can be complicated, and courts may interpret things differently case by case depending on the specific situation. So while I did my best to explain what I think the terms mean, you'll want to get advice from a qualified legal expert before making any decisions based on my non-lawyer interpretations. I can only provide a layperson's understanding, not professional legal counsel. You probably want to talk to someone with entertainment law or intellectual property law expertise. Any mistakes in what I'm saying below are mine alone and I apologize.

Interpretation translation

Now here's my non-legal interpretation of that text, based on my non-legal background understanding:

When you post content like photos, comments, reviews etc. on Spotify (called "User Content"), you still own that content.

However, in order for Spotify to operate the service and provide it to users, they need certain licensing rights to that User Content.

So you are granting Spotify a broad license to use your User Content in connection with operating the Spotify service. This includes things like:
    • Reproducing, displaying, and making the content available on Spotify
    • Allowing other users to see and interact with your content
    • Translating, modifying, or creating new works based on your content
    • Distributing and promoting your content through Spotify and other platforms
    • Operating and improving Spotify's business and systems

You're allowing Spotify to use your content pretty much however they need to in order to run the service. This includes things like translating it, modifying it, using it in ads/promotions, etc.

You still own the copyright, but this license gives Spotify broad rights to reuse and modify your User Content as part of providing Spotify to users around the world.

To expand on this a little bit more:

  • You still own the copyright to your user-generated content (photos, comments, etc.) that you post on Spotify.
  • However, you are granting Spotify a non-exclusive license to your content. This means Spotify is allowed to use your content, but you can still license it to others as well.
  • The license gives Spotify broad rights to use your content in connection with operating the Spotify service. This includes things like displaying, sharing, modifying, translating your content.
  • But the license is limited in scope and purpose - it only allows Spotify to use your content for things related to providing the Spotify service.
  • Spotify does not get the right to use your content for anything they want. The use must be connected to running Spotify - things like displaying on the platform, promoting the service, improving features, etc.

The one thing I want to emphasize about your rights is that you still own it, but are granting Spotify specific licensing rights to use the content as needed for Spotify's business, not a complete transfer of all rights or ability to use it however they like outside of Spotify. Their usage is tied to operating the music streaming service.

So what does this mean for you if you distribute your audiobooks on Spotify either directly or via some service such as Findaway?

Here's an example:

Say you have an English language audiobook. Based on the license terms explained, Spotify would have the right to translate your audiobook from English to German in order to make it available to listeners on Spotify in Germany.
Some points about Spotify translating your audiobook:
  • The license expressly allows Spotify to "translate" user-generated content.
  • Translating it to German would allow them to distribute/promote it through the Spotify platform to attract German-speaking listeners.
  • They could modify or edit it as necessary to localize it for the German market/culture.
  • But any changes would still need to be based on and recognizeable as your original English audiobook content.
  • Spotify could not sell the German translation separately outside of their own service.
  • You would maintain the copyright over the original English version.

So translating it to German to expand the potential audience on Spotify would fall within the scope of the broad licensing rights you are granting under these terms. Spotify just can't exploit the translated content outside of operating their own platform.

You would still be considered the author/copyright holder of the German translated version of the audiobook, even though Spotify performed the translation. The license does not transfer ownership of the copyright to Spotify.

And based on the terms, Spotify's rights are limited to using the content (including translations/modifications) specifically in connection with operating the Spotify platform/service. So the German translation would only be made available through Spotify, and not distributed to other platforms without your additional permission.

To summarize:
  • You remain the author/copyright owner of any translations.
  • Spotify's license only gives them rights to use/exploit the content through their own service, not other platforms.
  • The German version would only be distributed via Spotify, not separately licensed to other companies without your approval.
  • You still fully own the copyright in both the original and translated versions. Spotify just has a non-exclusive license to utilize the content as needed for Spotify.


It's up to you to decide how you want to respond, but it's important to note this change only affects what happens within Spotify's platform itself. It doesn't impact anything else you do with your audiobook elsewhere, although based on what you've done with your audiobook rights elsewhere, it could affect your contract with another retailer, platform, or vendor.

I'm curious what you all think about this update to Spotify's terms. Will it change anything about how you publish or promote your audiobooks? I'd love to hear your thoughts and perspectives in the comments. Do you plan to continue having your book on Spotify or will you pull it in response to the new terms?

Personally, I'm still mulling over the implications myself and what it means for my author clients. I can understand why Spotify made this change from a business perspective, but for authors, I understand you would have some concerns about how it may restrict promotional opportunities. I'd like to remind you that Spotify isn't the only audiobook distribution channel out there.

Ultimately, this update is a good reminder that as authors or any content creator for that matter, you don't have full control over third-party platforms. Terms of service can change at any time, so it's wise to diversify where you publish to reduce reliance on any single company. But I also don't think there's necessarily a right or wrong decision here - you have to evaluate what makes the most sense for your personal situation and goals.

And one final thought. I expect that with the public reaction to the news, I'm certain that Findaway will work with Spotify to rectify the situation to the best of their ability. Might not happen overnight, but I expect they will do *something.* No clue what that something will be though. 

Let me know what you decide to do! I always love hearing from you all and learning about the ever-evolving world of audiobook publishing. Even when platforms change things up on us, ultimately, you as authors have the power to adapt and make the best choices for getting your stories out there.

And if you have any other thoughts or comments, please share them below. Or if you wish to chat privately, feel free to contact me in whichever way you prefer.

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  1. Holy crud, that clause sounds scary. Your explanation makes sense, but also, with their wording, it looks like they gave themselves plenty of room to move around. I also wonder what would happen if they do a merger to another popular business, if authors could lose a stream of revenue?
    I'm going to forward this onto some friends.

    1. Thank you. The scary thing is they've left themselves plenty of room to do just about anything. It's understandable why a lot of authors are upset. Feel free to share with as many people as you wish.