In a filing this week in federal court, Audible has agreed not to include the copyrighted works of seven plaintiff publishers in its “Captions” program without express permission. The draft order comes nearly three weeks after Judge Valerie Caproni, on January 14, dismissed the contentious, months-long copyright infringement lawsuit between publishers and the Amazon-owned audiobook provider, after being informed by the parties that they’d reached a settlement.
At press time, a final settlement document was not available (Audible attorneys have filed a motion to have the settlement agreement sealed). But in the brief proposed “Stipulated Consent Permanent Injunction” filed with the court and made public, Audible is “permanently restrained, enjoined, and prohibited" from generating text "derived from audiobook versions of Publishers’ Works for any product or service created or offered by Audible." The prohibition does not apply to any text in the public domain.
While only the seven named plaintiffs are covered by the injunction, there is apparently language in the settlement that extends the same protection to all AAP members. In a brief statement, AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante said: "AAP, the Plaintiffs, and Audible have resolved their pending litigation. Audible has agreed that it will obtain permission from any AAP Members that are in good standing with AAP before moving forward with Audible Captions for their works."
Audible sources confirmed to PW that the company currently has no plan to move forward with the Captions program beyond its limited pilot with public domain works for students. Further, Audible officials said the company has in fact decided not to include any copyrighted works in the Captions program without securing permission, regardless of whether or not the parties are AAP members—though the company was careful to stress that they’ve not formalized that decision with any party outside of this litigation.
First filed in August of 2019 by seven publishers (including all of the Big Five, Scholastic, and Chronicle Books), the suit claims that Audible’s proposed Captions program, which scrolls a few words of an AI-generated transcription alongside an audiobook’s narration in the Audible app, amounts to blatant copyright infringement.
In response, Audible officials argued that that the program is designed to enhance the audio experience, and is protected by fair use, though, at a September 27 hearing, Caproni appeared highly skeptical of Audible's fair use defense.