In a stipulation filed in federal court on August 28, Audible has agreed to exclude works from a group of major publishers from its Captions program until copyright and licensing issues raised in a recent lawsuit are resolved.
“Audible will not enable its ‘Captions’ feature for all audiobooks for which Publishers own, or are the exclusive licensee of, the text or audiobook rights (including without limitation Publishers’ Works as defined in Paragraph 36 of the Complaint filed in this litigation) until the Court rules on Publishers’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction,” the filing states, “or the motion is otherwise disposed of.”
In addition, a preliminary hearing that had been set for September 5, has been moved to September 25. Audible will file its response to the publisher suit by September 13.
The Stipulation terms represent a minor victory for the Association of American Publishers and a group of plaintiff publishers (Chronicle Books; Hachette; HarperCollins; Macmillan; Penguin Random House; Scholastic; and Simon & Schuster) who had filed suit on August 23 in the Southern District of New York to stop Audible from including their works in the program’s upcoming launch without permission. In a statement at the time of the suit, AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante accused Audible of "willfully pushing a product that is unauthorized, interferes and competes with established markets."
In response, Audible has denied that the Captions program, which scrolls a few words of an AI-generated transcription alongside an audiobook’s narration in the Audible app, violates any right or agreements. The program was reportedly set to begin as early as September 10, and can still launch for works for which there is no permissions issue (including, for example, Audible and Amazon published titles, and public domain works). Titles from publishers who were not part of the lawsuit could also be used in the program although it is possible that if a publisher contacts Audible they may exclude their titles from the program until the legal issue is resolved.
While a win for the plaintiff publishers in the short term, it's unclear what the stipulation means for the future—the litigation may now move with less urgency, with the exclusion of the publishers’ titles perhaps presenting a path to a settlement or another agreement among the parties.
James Grimmelmann, law professor at Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School told PW the stipulation sounded like part of "a reasonable negotiated scheduling order" between the parties. "I imagine that Amazon feels no urgency to launch the feature across its entire catalog," he noted, "and is perfectly happy to have the legal issue decided without exposing itself to further risk."