In an email to the Independent Book Publishers Association this week, Audible confirmed that it will limit its controversial Captions program to public domain works—and apparently to a small beta group of students—until a copyright lawsuit filed by seven major publishers and supported by the Association of American Publishers is resolved.
Audible's response to the IBPA is the same message recently shared with authors in Amazon's ACX program, and comes after IBPA requested, on September 9, that Audible exclude 27 IBPA member publishers from the Captions program.
“We have received your request. As we had not determined a specific release date for the full Captions program when the lawsuit was filed, we have chosen to wait until the outcome of the proceeding to release it,” Audible's message states. “In the meantime, we are working to roll out Captions for public domain titles to over 150,000 U.S. high school students in support of our educational focus. We look forward to a full rollout of Captions once the legal proceeding is resolved."
Most notably, Audible's response does not agree to any opt-out or exclusion. In fact, the message doesn't even address IBPA's request to have its members excluded from the Captions program beyond acknowledging receipt of the request. Rather, the response merely states that the Captions program will be limited until the current legal action is resolved—a decision which, of course, could change. But while Audible has always pushed the Captions feature as an educational tool, it's unclear why the planned launch of the program for public domain titles (public domain works are free to use without risk or restriction) is being limited to a small sampling of high school students.
A USA Today exclusive in July initially suggested that Captions would soon be "available on hundreds of thousands of audiobooks at launch to any Audible member."
The latest development comes after seven plaintiff publishers filed suit in federal court last month accusing Audible of "willfully pushing a product that is unauthorized" and that "interferes and competes with established markets." In a subsequent scheduling order, Audible did agree to a stipulation not to include the works of the six plaintiff publishers in the program until the legal action is resolved. That stipulation, of course, only covers the plaintiff publishers.
Audible, meanwhile, denies 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 rights or agreements. Audible’s reply to the publisher lawsuit is due to be filed by Friday, September 13.
In her letter to Audible, IBPA CEO Angela Bole said IBPA “sees benefit in something like the Audible Captions program, but not without proper permission from the copyright holders and proper compensation to the creators.” Bole further told PW she was “glad to know Audible will exclude everything from Captions except public domain works,” which she acknowledges were never in contention, and that she “looks forward to a final outcome that ensures long-term benefit for all."