American Publishers’ Association Sues To Stop ‘Audible Captions’

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Association of American Publishers today (August 23) has asked the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to enjoin Audible from providing to its audiobook consumers the machine-generated text of literary works “without any authorization from, compensation to, or quality control by the copyright owners.”

In media messaging this morning from the Washington DC offices of AAP, the organization says its lawsuit names seven AAP member-companies as plaintiffs. They include the Big Five major publishing houses.

. . . .

The suit is being filed in response to recent public statements from Audible, in which it announced its planned rollout of a feature called “Audible Captions.”

And in a special internal note to member publishing houses, AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante writes, in part, “The feature, wholly unauthorized, transcribes and displays the text of narrated performances, which are embodied in the audiobook sound recordings that publishers have otherwise authorized Audible to distribute.

“In this context, publishers and authors are the copyright owners of both the audiobook productions and the underlying literary works, and Audible is effectively a retailer—albeit one that has elected to unlaterally enhance its offerings for its own gain.

“On most days, publishers are in the business of investing in authors, inspiring readers, and disseminating knowledge to the public.  Today we find ourselves in court because it is, at times, essential to stand against deliberate acts of disregard and self-interest, particularly when they threaten the long-term viability of the publishing industry and the laws that are its foundation.”

. . . .

First made public knowledge in July, the Audible Captions feature is designed to transcribe and display the text of narrated performances—much as you might see subtitles on an international film or surtitles in an opera performance.

. . . .

On the same date, the 10,000-member Authors Guild also released a statement condemning Audible Captions, writing, “While Audible states that its new ‘Audible Captions’ feature will only display ‘small amounts of machine-generated text,’ existing ACX and Audible agreements do not grant Audible the right to create text versions of audio books, whether delivered as a full book or in segments.

“Nor is there an exception to the copyright law that would permit Audible to do this.”

. . . .

In addition, the association says the technique imposes on the content—and the user’s reception of it—”an error rate that stands in stark contrast to the high-quality and carefully-proofed ebooks that publishers produce, and for which they acquire exclusive electronic rights.” To understand what this means, note how easily your Alexa smart speaker may be “waked up” by the word “election” spoken nearby in a room or on a television newscast.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

17 thoughts on “American Publishers’ Association Sues To Stop ‘Audible Captions’”

  1. When KDP Select debuted, publishers said they weren’t interested. That was perhaps the single greatest benefit to independent authors ever. (I’m still driving around in one of mine, and sold the other.)\

    Independents rushed into the gap, and signed up with Select.

    If the court grants an injunction, I expect Audible to offer a permission box so rights holders can make their own decision. Let the good times roll. Nobody is smart enough to know where these things will lead, but if the other guy rejects opportunity it’s time to grab it.

    • Audible went about it heavy-handedly but that alone isn’t enough to justify trying to force the djinn back into the bottle.

      One thing about these lawsuits is the unintended consequences: if Audible wins on transformative grounds instead of contract or legal compliance, it would automatically allow for the equally transformative TTS to be universal.

      And there are further developments on the way…

  2. “without any authorization from, compensation to, or quality control by the copyright owners.”

    And the contract they agreed to by signing up didn’t cover it in any way? Color me wondering if Amazon’s lawyers could possibly be that bad.

    • It does.
      It has the same overly broad “future proofing” that the BPHs pioneered and which has already prevailed in court.

      • Contracts mean what I think they should mean. Harlan Ellison said, “Pay the author!” What more do we need?

        • They should.
          They don’t.
          Especially the intentionally laberinthine standard BPH contracts, loaded with things that don’t mean exactly what they say where they say it because a latter claus modifies or supercedes it. You need a flowchart or VISIO PRO to figure out those contracts.
          They’re pure spaghetti. On purpose.
          Take it or leave it.

          • Exactly. That’s how contracts work.

            I remember lawyers once taking a perfectly good equation defining schedule-based incentive pay, and putting it into legal prose. It was masterful. Nobody had any idea what it said.

            They told me you shouldn’t have to be an engineer to understand it. I told them I didn’t even understand what they had written, and I was indeed dealing with a bunch of engineers.

            I got my equation back.

  3. publishers are in the business of investing in authors, inspiring readers, and disseminating knowledge to the public

    it is, at times, essential to stand against deliberate acts of disregard and self-interest, particularly when they threaten the long-term viability of the publishing industry

    high-quality and carefully-proofed ebooks that publishers produce

    I was not aware that PG was going to start running a “Friday Funnies” feature. But I like it!

  4. All joking aside (as if that were even a possibility on TPV), Ms. Pallante says, “The feature, wholly unauthorized, transcribes and displays the text of narrated performances, which are embodied in the audiobook sound recordings that publishers have otherwise authorized Audible to distribute.”

    Is this true, that the technology will simply publish the text of narrated performances, which, in my experience, is simply the text of the book, more or less?

    • Good point. The author should be able to find a publisher who wants to publish an eBook that flashes one line at a time. Consumers are clamoring for that format over the standard stuff with all those pages, paragraphs, and sentences.

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