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AAP Files Doomed Lawsuit Over Audible’s Caption Feature, Alleges Copyright Infringement

When detractors complained after Audible launched Audible Captions last month, I asked myself how anyone could know that this feature infringed on copyrights when no one had seen it yet or really knew how it worked.

This hasn't stopped the AAP.

On Friday the Association of American Publishers announced that it was filing sut against Audible and Amazon. The filing names seven AAP members as plaintiffs:

  • Hachette Book Group
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • Macmillan Publishing Group
  • Penguin Random House
  • Scholastic
  • Simon & Schuster
  • Chronicle Books

You can find the filing here as a PDF. I also have the statement given to the press.

“We are extremely disappointed by Audible’s deliberate disregard of authors, publishers, and copyright law,” said AAP President and CEO Maria A. Pallante. “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.”

Audible Captions is a new feature that uses machine-learning to convert the audio in an audiobook into text. That text is shown a few words at a time to readers. Here's a video from Audible showing Audible Captions in action:

The problem with this case are several. Leaving aside the arguments made about the accuracy of the conversion (said arguments have zero legal relevance) and the heavy editorializing (you would think I had written it), the AAP filing also repeats the claim that Audible distributes the entire converted work.

This is demonstrably false based on all public info available, but even if it were true this lawsuit still has the odds stacked against it.

The thing is, we already have legal casework that suggest that Audible Captions is fair use.

I am of course referring to the Google Books case. When The Authors Guild filed suit in 2005, Google's project to scan books in university libraries was obviously copyright infringement, but by the time the dust settled Google Books was ruled to be fair use because, in part, it was a transformative use that did not replace the function of the original work.

Audible Captions is clearly transformative, and Audible Captions is clearly not a practical replacement for the original works (nor, thanks to the AAP's complaints about the accuracy , is it a replacement for the related ebook).

This case is being tried in the same court that gave us the Google Books ruling, and my bet is that Audible is going to win this case without trying too hard.

Who wants to take my money?

Nate Hoffelder: @https://twitter.com/thDigitalReaderNate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

View Comments (7)

  • I see a use for this. Reluctant or disabled readers find it helpful to listen to an audiobook while trying to read/follow along with the print version, doing so aids in their ability to learn to read.

    What I find interesting about this development is that in the early days of eBook & eAudiobook distribution (if my memory serves me correctly) this battle was fought once before and the eBook publishing won out.

  • I don't know... If you have hearing deficiencies, such that you would need captioning, why on earth would you buy an audiobook? Something is not right here. There's hanky panky of some kind somewhere.

  • Not me.
    Try reading the audible contract terms.

    Straight out of the BPH playbook, court-tested in the JULIE OF THE WOLVES lawsuit.

    They might be able to buy a judge but otherwise...