Audible settles copyright lawsuit with publishers over audiobook captions

Seven publishers had sued the audiobook giant last July, claiming that its audio-to-text service Captions was unauthorised

After months of back and forth, Audible has settled in a copyright lawsuit with major publishers over its plan to introduce captions to their recordings, a proposal that the publishing houses argued was simply reading.

In July, the audiobook company owned by Amazon announced Captions, an additional function for the existing app that would allow customers to read the text as it was read, as well as looking up words and translating them. Captions had been slated to launch in September 2019.

But while Audible maintained that Captions “does not replicate or replace the print or ebook reading experience” and said it worked within the framework of copyright law, the publishers were unconvinced after seeing demonstrations.

Seven publishers, including the “Big Five” – Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Macmillan – sued Audible in August, a move that was also backed by bodies representing authors and agents.

“Audible Captions takes publishers’ proprietary audiobooks, converts the narration into unauthorised text, and distributes the entire text of these ‘new’ digital books to Audible’s customers,” said the lawsuit.

Audible attempted to have the case thrown out, arguing that it was a contract dispute and not a copyright issue. It claimed Captions was an educational tool, saying it was “developed because we, like so many leading educators and parents, want to help kids who are not reading engage more through listening”.

In court, lawyers for the publishers said Audible had no right to generate and distribute text, while lawyers for Audible argued that it was not the equivalent of reading. Publisher’s Weekly reported that judge Valerie Caproni interjected: “What do you mean it’s not a reading experience? It’s words.”

In a letter filed this week in federal court in New York, Audible’s attorneys, writing on behalf of both sides, announced that the parties had resolved their disputes and expected to submit the settlement documents by 21 January. No other details were provided.

Audible is the dominant player in the booming audio market. In 2018, there were $940m (£722m) of sales in the US alone, up 24.5% on the previous year, while sales in the UK increased 43% to £69m.


Sian Cain

The GuardianTramp

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