Publishers Sue Audible, Seek To Block Captioning Feature

Seven publishers have sued Amazon's Audible over a planned speech-to-text feature that will allow people to read along while listening to books.

In a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Manhattan, the publishers contend that the feature, Audible Captions, infringes their copyright. They are seeking an injunction prohibiting Audible from releasing the service.

“Audible Captions takes publishers’ proprietary audiobooks, converts the narration into unauthorized text, and distributes the entire text of these 'new' digital books to Audible’s customers,” the publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillan, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster and Chronicle write. “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 lawsuit comes one month after Audible announced plans to release a captioning service. The company has trumpeted the educational potential of the captioning service, which will allow users to view unfamiliar words -- and look up their definitions -- as they hear the words spoken.

The publishers argue in their complaint that the upcoming service could directly compete with their own offerings -- namely physical books and e-books.

The publishers also suggest that Audible Captions will drive down prices by “causing consumers to believe that there is little value in receiving the text of the works when they already have an audiobook.”

The publishers say in the lawsuit that they sent Audible cease-and-desist letters demanding that the company back away from plans to offer the new service. Audible allegedly justified the service to publishers by saying it's educational.

But the publishers argue the service infringes copyright even if it's intended to be educational.

“Audible’s mantle of 'education' is a loophole that would justify any form of copying and violation of a copyright owner’s exclusive rights,” the publishers write. “This same 'education' argument could be used to justify the creation of unauthorized audiobooks themselves, as audiobooks too would help those who are reluctant to read.”

Audible stated Friday that its captioning service “is not and was never intended to be a book.”

The company added: “We disagree with the claims that this violates any rights and look forward to working with publishers and members of the professional creative community to help them better understand the educational and accessibility benefits of this innovation.”

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