Free Audiobooks, YouTube, and Copyright

When searching for some of the latest news and developments surrounding the publishing industry, I felt compelled to see what new changes may be surrounding audiobooks. I didn’t choose audiobooks because I particularly like them or am familiar with them, in fact, I’ve never actually used one ever before. To me, audiobooks seemed to have more of a link to the future of publishing for a number of reasons. First of all, an audiobook is a highly accessible type of medium for people of all ages and can be experienced in a diverse range of environments. Secondly, these books fit harmoniously into the age of digital consumption, where readers are more often using their phones to get access to news and current events on the go.

With a set of headphones, readers can not only listen and experience their favourite books while in transit, but they will also retain some sense of individual privacy to the books they are enjoying as opposed to reading a codex version and revealing their personal interests to those who see the handheld book’s cover. Andrew Piper argues that we relate to reading books as individuals, and that it also serves as a form of individuation based on how we do it. Yet, at the same time, when books are placed in social media websites or apps and changed into audiobooks, Piper also argues that there can now be more of a collective association through integration with our shared online personalities.

In this case, we can understand how audiobooks are able prosper, as Piper claims: “How different technologies facilitate or inhibit the act of sharing will be a key determinant not only of their future success, but of the way we think about reading.” (Piper, 2012).

Again, I admit that I don’t use audiobooks at all despite their benefits and effective integration with today’s technology, but I was very intrigued to find out that YouTube (something I do frequently use), has been recently considered one of the five most five useful sources for free Audiobooks.  After seeing this news article, it was then that I realized that YouTube was actually one of the first places that I had ever come across an advertisement for Audible, Amazon’s portal for audiobooks. One of my favourite YouTube personalities was offering a special promotion code to Audible by embedding a sponsored message at the end of his own video content, which was different from seeing the standard types of commercials or advertisements before videos that you could skip over after a few seconds. During this promo message, I understood that audiobooks wouldn’t normally be a free service, and that some sort of subscription-based business model would be in place for the premium audio libraries such as Audible. In fact, Audible is listed among the free sources in the article mentioned above, but the supposedly “free” content is the rotating list of 50 titles in the Audible catalog that only Amazon Prime members will have access to. Essentially, after a 30-day free trial runs out of Amazon Prime, Canadians would be spending an annual fee of $79.00 plus applicable taxes to enjoy their premium audiobooks. A lot of what makes these audiobooks “premium” seems to revolve around the fact that they’re bestsellers, or that they even have celebrity narrated classics to keep listeners even more riveted with their chosen genre of book.

However, audiobooks don’t really need these elements to thrive, as YouTube has managed to prove that truly free access can be the most enticing thing necessary. By adding a YouTube account like AudiobooksFree to an RSS feed, users can essentially create their own basic subscription service of free published content to their hearts content. One classmate in my publishing class has already confirmed that he’s made the most of YouTube to find some of his favourite novels in audiobook form, but he had also admitted to it probably being “totally illegal”.

This is where books seem to begin following in the footsteps of music, which is one of many art forms that has constantly been at war with copyright infringement and illegal downloading during the digital age. There is a great irony to the fact that books are following suit, especially if we consider how music and movies seemed adopt characteristics of the book medium throughout the years by the process of remediation. By definition, remediation is “the representation of one medium in another” (Bolter and Grusin, 1998), and we see examples when we hear terms like “music libraries” or “albums”. Now, however, it seems the tables have turned so that audiobooks are inadvertently adopting the bad characteristics of music listeners by getting tangled up in copyright infringement and piracy because of their popularity online. It should then come as no surprise that authors are similarly going to war over piracy with listeners and fans of their work once it is handed out freely and loses its market value.

The aforementioned article by MoneyTalksNews reveals that many audio books on YouTube belong to the public domain, this means that their copyright laws are most likely expired and over 100 years old, or they could also be forfeited. Alternatively, many other uploaded audiobooks could very well be illegally recorded or shared, which blurs the lines of ethical sharing if users are free to access it and don’t want to know the difference.

Take this worst case scenario for best-selling author Ryan Holiday as a nightmare example, as he recently discovered his own audiobook was free to access on YouTube after reading a comment for his audiobook on Amazon where it was being sold. Holiday was forced to file a copyright claim on the videos of his audiobooks on YouTube that were collecting thousands of views and thus ruining his chance collecting earnings through Amazon. What’s worse is that authors like him are at a massive disadvantage for ensuring that their audiobooks are prevented from piracy through the use of YouTube’s ContentID tracking technology that helps to locate copyrighted material. Normally, only big publishing houses are granted the ability to use ContentID as a preventative measure to locate the illegally shared material on YouTube in the same way that copyrighted music or video files can be. Unfortunately, audiobooks are more often published by smaller companies who aren’t given the same access to this tracking technology, and are forced to hunt down the specific accounts who post pirated material. Audiobooks are also at a great disadvantage to other pirated files like podcasts because they don’t adopt the same practice of having advertisements embedded in them to guarantee some return of revenue.

Therefore, YouTube is a great vessel for the audiobook as it surges in popularity, but for the amount of legal concerns that will arise from pirated content, the website is severely lacking in adequate ways to deal with the negative impacts on authors. The publishing industry has already resorted to outsourcing their anti-piracy efforts to third party companies who help to generate the takedown requests for any e-books or audiobooks that are shared for free. As a result, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has reportedly doubled its takedown requests in October this year and set a new record from the amount that was sent in at the same time last year. From this emerging trend we can connect back to Piper’s quote about the success of books based on how different technologies can inhibit or facilitate the act of sharing, and especially how it determines the way we think about reading.  Those people who choose to illegally upload audiobooks are contributing to the success of the book in terms of popularity, but are also robbing the authors of their fair share of profits and tarnishing the book industry.  We can relate back to music sharing again because of the way that people are able to easily download whatever they want, but they inevitably contribute to negative implications that will impact the artists and marketplace. Audiobooks can continue to be successful themselves, but as their collective audiences continue to make a habit of cheating their way to free access, the authors will be faced with an increasingly uphill battle to regaining fair compensation.



Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1998. Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation.  In Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Holiday, R. (2016). When Will YouTube Deal With Its Audiobook and Podcast Piracy Problem? Retrieved October, 2016, from

Kozlowski, Michael (2016). DMCA Takedown Requests Set a New Record. Retrieved October, 2016, from

Neiman, Melissa (2016). 5 Sources of Free Audiobooks. Retrieved October, 2016, from

Piper, Andrew. 2012. “Sharing”. In Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 83-108.


Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin provide an in-depth exploration of the logic that surrounds new media in Immedicacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation (1998), particularly how digital technologies begin to arouse those aforementioned ways of thinking through their existence in contrasting media outlets.

The first hurdle I came across with this reading was the lack of familiarity with the two latter terms, so I pulled some dictionary definitions off of Google to start my note taking process.

 Hypermediacy is ” a style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium” (Bolter and Grusin 272). Hypermediacy plays upon the desire for immediacy and transparent immediacy, making us hyper-conscious of our act of seeing (or gazing).”

We then learn from the authors that Remediation is “the representation of one medium in another,” and later on in the reading they argue that this is actually a defining characteristic of digital media.

Initially, I assumed that hypermediacy was something that always worked against establishing immediacy, which is considered the quality of bringing one into direct and instant involvement with something to give rise to a sense of urgency or excitement. This was not the case, as Bolter and Grusin begin introducing these three terms by saying:

“We do not claim that immediacy, hypermediacy, and remediation are universal truths; rather, we regard them as practices of specific groups in specific times” (Page 2).

To expand on that, we learn that immediacy can be seen differently from the perspective of artists, designers, theorists, or any viewers with less knowledge of the processes associated with the creation or presentation of media forms. Although, we also discover that hypermediacy brings a wider array of reactions that occur according to contemporary ideas that surround immediacy, so we already start to see how these two forms of logic are intertwined in that respect and not always polarized.

Furthermore, Bolter and Grusin assert that remediation will always operate under whatever cultural assumptions are associated with those two aforementioned themes. Yet before any contemporary examples of remediation are picked out for deciphering, first the historical resonances to Renaissance painting, nineteenth century photography and twentieth century film are examined among many other technologies.

Beginning with virtual reality, we are introduced to the term “transparency” and its relation to the immediacy of a medium, or our way of getting lost in the moment of being exposed to it. Virtual reality is presented as a very obvious example, as Bolter and Grusin describe it as so realistic that we are meant to forget about the fact that we are interacting with technology.

Transparency is then identified in Renaissance painting methods, where artists make use of linear perspective to draw what Alberti (1972) calls “an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen” (55). Additionally, paint artists use erasive methods such as removing brush strokes to establish a stronger sense of immediacy for viewers.

With the advent of photography and television, these technologies began to automate the techniques associated with linear perspective, thus also making it even easier to conceal the artist and artistic process so much more through their remediation of painting concepts. The same can be said for computer animation as well, where it is now commonplace to function as a film by presenting a “sequence of predetermined camera shots” (Page 9-10).

From this point of analysis, Bolter and Grusin then begin to highlight how the logics of immediacy and hypermediacy are governed by contemporary thoughts surrounding new media, such as a computer desktop full of windows.

“If the logic of immediacy leads one either to erase or to render automatic the act of representation, the logic of hypermediacy acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible. Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as “windowed” itself—with windows that open on to other representations or other media” (Page 15).

Thus our contemporary logic of hypermediacy falls in line with how we interact with the digital media of today, which are proving to be increasingly more multidimensional and versatile according to how we handle it. The desktop computer screen’s graphical user interface (GUI) was already mentioned before, but there are other examples such as opening multiple tabs on an internet browser which fall into Bolter and Grusin’s notion of “replacement” being the operative strategy in our windowed technology nowadays.

In addition, our ability to scroll through or zoom in on photos while using smart phones allows us users to become the mediators of the technology in more of a transparent fashion, as these methods remediate the older ideas introduced by computers, where visible buttons for a magnifying glass tool or scroll bar was accessible.

To conclude the analysis, the authors rebut against the argument made by media theorist Steven Holtzman (1997), who states that digital media “cannot be significant until they make a radical break with the past (Page 31). I would agree with this position as well, and the fact that there will always be a reflection or an idea of older media when it is compared to the actions of newer digital media.

It is exactly as Bolter and Grusin put it in their final sentence: “Repurposing as remediation is both what is ‘unique to digital worlds’ and what denies the possibility of that uniqueness” (Page 31).

Works Cited

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. 1998. Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation.  In Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

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