The Association of American Publishers filed suit on August 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in a bid to stop Audible from moving ahead with its plans to implement its Audible Captions program. Under Captions, Audible will transcribe a book’s audio in order to create text that will run along with the audio.
When news of the program first leaked in mid-July, publishers and agents expressed strong concerns that Captions engaged in copyright infringement. Part of Audible’s response to publishers last month was that they had not yet seen how Captions works and denied that the program involved any infringement. But publishers have seen now seen demos of the program, and what they saw was enough to prompt the filing of the lawsuit. “That Audible plans to move forward unilaterally with infringing text, despite the objections of the AAP, its members, and the Authors Guild, is deeply concerning, leaving the plaintiffs no choice but to seek a preliminary injunction to avoid irreparable harm to their present and future copyright interests,” the AAP said in its press release.
The suit seeks a preliminary injunction preventing Audible from going ahead with the program, which was slated to go live in September. In the lawsuit, the AAP argues that it is illegal for Audible to move forward with Captions since it is transcribing the audio without the permission of the copyright holders and without providing any compensation. All Big Five publishers have signed on to the lawsuit, as have Scholastic and Chronicle.
“We are extremely disappointed by Audible’s deliberate disregard of authors, publishers, and copyright law,” AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante said in a statement. “In what can only be described as an effort to seek commercial advantage from literary works that it did not create and does not own, Audible is willfully pushing a product that is unauthorized, interferes and competes with established markets, and is vulnerable to grammatical and spelling inaccuracies—it is a disservice to everyone affected, including readers.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed the Authors Guild issued a statement expressing its strong support for the AAP's action. Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger noted that Audible is proceeding with Captions, "without authorization and in violation of its contracts with publishers." Rasenberger continued: "Text and audio are different book markets, and Audible is licensed only for audio. It has chosen to use its market power to force publishers’ hands by proceeding without permission in clear violation of copyright in the titles,”
The guild statement noted that a number of guild members, including president Doug Preston, have books that are in the Captions program without their permission. "My contract is crystal clear that the only rights conveyed to Audible are for voice recording and playback. The rights to reproduce text in any way are specifically withheld,” said Preston. “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."
Audible responded to the suit in a statement on its website, saying it was "surprised and disappointed by this action and any implication that we have not been speaking and working with publishers about this feature, which has not yet launched." The company went on: "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 elaborated, saying that it takes issue with "the claims that this violates any rights." It finally added that it is eager to "work with publishers and members of the professional creative community to help them better understand the educational and accessibility benefits of this innovation."
This article has been updated from its original version to include the responses from the Authors Guild and Audible.