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Seven U.S. publishers band together in copyright suit over Amazon-owned Audible’s proposed “Audible Captions”

(Dalbert Vilarino)

The Association of American Publishers and a consortium of seven U.S. publishers filed a copyright suit against the Amazon-owned Audible on Aug. 23 in advance of its planned launch of Audible Captions this September. Audible Captions is Audible’s mobile-app feature that enables the automatic conversion of audiobooks into textbooks.

The seven publishers behind the lawsuit – Chronicle Books, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster – charge that Audible will be creating unlicensed ebooks through Audible Captions. “Audible’s actions — taking copyrighted works and repurposing them for its own benefit without permission — are the kind of quintessential infringement that the Copyright Act directly forbids,” the publishers’ attorney, Dale Cendali, wrote in the complaint.

Audible defended their position, saying their goal is to improve comprehension for audiobook listeners. “Captions was developed because we, like so many leading educators and parents, want to help kids who are not reading engage more through listening,” the company said in a statement. “This feature would allow such listeners to follow along with a few lines of machine-generated text as they listen to the audio performance. It is not and was never intended to be a book.”

Cendali notes that Audible Captions would cannibalize Audible’s pre-existing Immersion Reading feature, which syncs an audiobook with an ebook when the customer has purchased both. The American organization the Authors Guild released a statement confirming its “strong support” for the AAP with pointed criticism from guild president Doug Preston.

“My contract is crystal clear that the only rights conveyed to Audible are for voice recording and playback,” he said in a statement. “The rights to reproduce text in any way are specifically withheld. I can’t believe that Audible has so little respect for authors, contractual promises, and copyright that it thinks it can just help itself to rights it doesn’t have, by fiat. There is a simple English word to describe this: and that is theft.”