SoA survey reveals a third of translators and quarter of illustrators losing work to AI

Survey on generative AI highlights the growing impact of new technologies on creative careers, and an urgent need for ethical development that works within copyright laws

Throughout January 2024, the Society of Authors (SoA) ran a survey of its 12,500 members and other authors, receiving nearly 800 responses on respondents’ experiences of generative artificial intelligence (AI) systems, and their views and concerns about the future impact on creative careers.

The findings demonstrate not only the deep uncertainty about the future role of generative AI in the profession, but also the impact it is already having on careers and livelihoods.

Use of generative AI by creators

While some respondents are starting to use generative AI as a tool in their work out of choice, others – specifically some translators and illustrators – are now being asked to use it by publishers and commissioning organisations.

  • Approximately 1 in 5 respondents (22%) said they had used generative AI in their work.
  • This included 1 in 10 illustrators (12%), a third of translators (37%), a fifth of fiction writers (20%) and around a quarter of non-fiction writers (25%).
  • Around 3 in 10 illustrators and writers (31%) said they have used generative AI for brainstorming ideas.
  • Around 1 in 10 translators (8%) and a smaller proportion of illustrators (5%) said they have used generative AI in their work because their publisher or commissioning organisation asked them to.

Creators’ livelihoods at risk

Concerns about the impact of generative AI on creative careers included groups of authors who are already experiencing loss of work, or the devaluation of their work, as a direct result of new technologies.

  • A quarter of illustrators (26%) and over a third of translators (36%) have already lost work due to generative AI.
  • Over a third of illustrators (37%) and over 4 in 10 translators (43%) say the income from their work has decreased in value because of generative AI.
  • Almost two-thirds of writers of fiction (65%) and over half of non-fiction writers (57%) believe that generative AI will negatively impact future income from their creative work, with this rising to over three quarters of translators (77%) and illustrators (78%).
  • More than 8 in 10 respondents (86%) said they are concerned about their style, voice and likeness being mimicked or reproduced in generative AI output.
  • More than 8 in 10 respondents (86%) are concerned that the use of generative AI devalues human-made creative work.
  • Some respondents expressed concerns that generative AI could replace human creators, particularly in areas like copywriting and content creation. They raised concerns that this will lead to a decline in quality and diversity within the creative industries.
  • Even those respondents who were more optimistic that generative AI systems can be used ethically (for instance, as tools to improve efficiency and accessibility) reiterated that ethical concerns are a primary reason to avoid the use of generative AI systems at this stage.

The need for regulation and consent

There was an almost unanimous consensus among respondents about the need for regulation of generative AI: to ensure that consent is sought from copyright holders before their work is used to develop systems, that credit and compensation are given, and that the outputs of generative AI systems are labelled as such.

  • Almost all of respondents (94%) want credit and compensation and to be asked for consent (95%) when their work is used to develop generative AI systems or to enable AI-generated output.
  • Almost all respondents (95%) call for Government to introduce safeguards and regulation to ensure compliance with these measures of consent, compensation and transparency.
  • In a clear message to publishers and other organisations about the importance of transparency in all uses of AI software, the overwhelming majority of respondents (over 9 in 10) believe that publishers and other organisations should state prominently when generative AI has been used to assist with audio, video, covers and illustrations, decision-making, editing and translation.
  • Respondents also expressed ethical concerns about generative AI systems, with many highlighting biases and inaccuracies in AI-generated content, worries about copyright infringement, misuse of personal data, and the exploitation of fellow creators’ works without consent or remuneration.
  • Almost all respondents (97%) believe consumers deserve transparency and should be made aware when generative AI systems have generated all or a portion of what they are reading, viewing or hearing.

The SoA response

The survey findings highlight that while generative AI has the potential to be useful to some creators, there is an urgent need for action, and commitment to consent, remuneration and transparency measures, with an unambiguous message to developers, government and industry to respect the rights of human creators when developing, using and regulating for these tools.

  • The developers of generative AI systems must commit to transparency and ethical development, and engage with rightsholders’ – collectively and individually – about consent, credit and remuneration.
  • There is an urgent need for Government regulation of generative AI systems to ensure these systems are developed and used ethically and lawfully – with requirements for transparency, consent, credit, labelling and remuneration.
  • The Government needs to uphold copyright laws in the UK and strengthen enforcement mechanisms.
  • We reiterate our call for AI developers to engage with the creative industries to develop models for remunerating authors for past infringement and future use, including by way of collective licensing models.
  • Publishing and the creative industries must commit to protecting human creativity and authorship.
  • We urge all SoA members to vote in our upcoming EGM (2 May 2024) to assert that they do not consent to the use of their works to develop AI systems.

Commenting on the survey findings, chair of the Creators’ Rights Alliance and outgoing SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon said:

The generative AI landscape has evolved fast. Two years ago, these were niche systems but they have quickly become global, mass-market products. We raised concerns then about the possible future impact on creative careers. Today, that impact is already felt acutely by more and more creators – from translators and illustrators to journalists and educational writers. No one expects generative AI to be un-invented, and we all know its potential to be a powerful and useful tool. But it is not too late to ensure that it is developed and used ethically, and within existing copyright frameworks. Once the world moves beyond the wow factor of each new system release, generative AI must remain a tool to support and enhance human-made creative work, not a cheap alternative to replace it.

About the survey

Throughout January 2024, the SoA ran a survey of its 12,500 members and other authors, and received 787 responses.

The respondents included writers of fiction and non-fiction, scriptwriters, poets and journalists, as well as illustrators and translators – many well-established, others early in their careers, and both traditionally and self-published.

Regardless of type of author and career stage, almost all respondents called for transparency from developers, safeguards introduced by Government, credit and compensation when work is used, and ethical approaches both to the development of generative AI systems and in practice when they are used by industry.

Many thanks to everyone who shared their views and experience in the survey. The information will be invaluable as we continue to lobby Government and industry.

The Society of Authors.

Written by Theatrefullstop