Someone Disagrees with PG – Again

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PG has received a lot of comments about his post titled Amazon’s Upcoming Audible Captions Feature = Unhappy Publishers.

One of the responses which disagreed with PG’s assessment of Audible Captions as no big deal was from Marilynn Byerly. Ms. Byerly obviously put some time into collecting links to opinions that differ from PG’s, so PG thought he should promote the comment to a separate post so no one interested in this topic would miss it.

So, PV, you are a lawyer and your wife is a published author and you are fine with Amazon/Audible grabbing a book right without a contract or payment? It’s the author, traditional or self-pubbed, who gets screwed in these situations. Always. Since this is what they tried to do with Kindle rights grab, here are some good resources to study then give us your non-copyright lawyer opinion.

“Legal ruckus over the Kindle.” A fairly reasonable statement of the general facts of the case.

“Amazon Releases the New Kindle 2.” Includes some legal issues.

“Book publishers object to Kindle’s text-to-voice feature.” Covers some of the legal issues involved.

“E-Book Rights Alert: Amazon’s Kindle 2 Adds ‘Text to Speech’ Function.” Authors Guild statement.

Copyright lawyer, Ben Sheffner, blogs on the controversy.

“Kindle Text-to-speech is a lot of talk.” One of the better overviews of the legal questions involved. It also includes two versions, one by a TTS program and one by a human, of some text to compare the two methods.

“Know Your Rights: Does the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech infringe authors’ copyrights?” Ex-copyright attorney talks about the issues involved. The best overview I’ve seen.

“DRM White Paper AAP/ALA White Paper: What Consumers Want in Digital Rights Management,” Discusses the problems of TTS for publishers and audiobook companies because it isn’t adequately defined in a legal sense. No longer available online.

Unfortunately, due to yet another wild and crazy weekend at Casa PG, PG won’t have an opportunity to review all of Ms. Byerly’s links and prepare a response until early next week.

In the interim, feel free to comment on any of Ms. Byerly’s links or other issues you feel are raised (or not raised) by Amazon’s latest experiment with audiobooks.

56 thoughts on “Someone Disagrees with PG – Again”

  1. Of course we already know that anything from ‘Authors Guild’ is just trad-pub’s lapdogs yapping on their masters’ command. (Anyone needing proof just go back to the qig5/apple/agency games. AG claimed agency was Amazon’s fault and not those poor publishers. 😉 )

    And of course the text to speech was already covered (and Amazon was sued over lack of audio on Kindle (one of the many reasons KINDLE DX was killed). – taken from Felix’s comment)

    And Amazon makes it easy for you. Don’t want the option – don’t do Amazon audio books. How hard can that be? Oh wait, I’m arguing with a have my cake and eat it too type.

    Gee, sounds just like those people that whine about the KU but won’t leave it …

  2. I don’t understand why anyone’s taking Audible’s side here. They should have asked writers to opt in, and they should have asked for the rights rather than deciding to do it in-house, and they didn’t. It’s almost like there’s this reflexive ‘oh if publishers hate it, it must be wrong’ response.

    Y’all, this is the company that has successfully bullied authors into believing they can’t use the IP a contract has legally assigned them without permission from third parties. Why on earth are you rooting for them? Call them on their shenanigans.

    • “Call them on their shenanigans.”

      Exactly. Don’t like it? Then vote with your IP and just say ‘no’ to Audible.

      How hard can it be? 😉

      • I don’t appreciate the flippancy. The people who are already involved with Audible don’t get to “just say no” and walk away from contracts they’re already stuck in. Likewise, if someone makes a great deal of money through Audible, you’re asking them whether they can afford to take the financial hit and walk away from someone who might be putting most of the groceries in their larders.

        Again, I don’t understand this desire to side with the distributor/retailer instead of the author. Why on earth would you assume that your peers should be punished for the activities of their business partners, the ones they thought they were doing business with in good faith, only to be proven incorrect? Why is your instinct to say ‘serves you right, should have been smarter’ instead of ‘hey, that’s encroaching and bullying and my response to the victim shouldn’t be to sneer and say chlorine in the gene pool’?

        I thought we were pro-author here. In both senses of the word.

        • I thought we were pro-author here. In both senses of the word.

          Perhaps some are. I’m not for either author or company until I look at the individual issue. We can also disagree about what is best for the author. We can even explore the idea that one thing is best for one author, but not for another. None of us get to proclaim what is best for all authors.

          We can make at least two opposing cases that don’t rely on loyalty to anyone. One case says authors will make more money if they are specifically paid for caption rights.

          The other says authors will make more money if captions lead to an increase in sales volume.

          Both ideas depend on price elasticity and demand. If Amazon pays authors more, how will that effect price? If prices go up, what is the elasticity factor? Will authors make more or less?

          If Amazon does not pay authors more, will demand increase for the captioned product by people who value it? Will it result in more money for authors?

          Lacking firm answers to either the demand or elasticity question, we are left to navigate an external environment full of uncertainty. In that kind of environment, opinions and choices will vary as each author tries to maximize his own welfare.

          This may be like KU. Some like it and prosper. Others hate it, don’t participate, and told others not to participate..

          But, I after rigorous study and analysis, I have figured it out. When the giant company that sends this ASIN money every month speaks, I jump to attention and shout, “Sir, Yes, Sir! How high, Sir?”

          • Look, I’m as interested in the money as anyone who’s trying to make a living. But to make money you have to have something to sell, and for us, it’s a nebulous thing, and that nebulous thing is protected by laws only so long as we keep on top of people who try to use that vagueness to profit… and not necessarily to share that profit.

            I am very happy to sell Audible my captioning rights. I am absolutely not happy with them deciding they *own my captioning rights* without negotiation or consultation. Because if they decide they own those rights, then I don’t *get* the money they make off it.

            If they’d said ‘we’d like to start buying captioning rights from authors’, I would be marching along with all the people who think this is a swell idea. But they didn’t say that, did they. They just decided they *could* do it. So they would. And dared us to take issue with it.

            Maybe you jump to attention and shout “Yes, sir, how high!” to the company that pays you every month. I know I used to. That was before the Spots the Space Marine debacle demonstrated utterly and irrevocably that the company that pays me every month is *not* my friend. They are my business partner, and they don’t particularly care whether I live or die. And it takes an entire internet full of outrage to get them to back down. Anything less, and you become a smudge on their windshield, and no one will mourn you when you go back to the day job because of something you couldn’t fight and couldn’t prevent and that wasn’t your fault.

            • “I am very happy to sell Audible my captioning rights. I am absolutely not happy with them deciding they *own my captioning rights* without negotiation or consultation. Because if they decide they own those rights, then I don’t *get* the money they make off it.”

              Ah, so we ‘know’ they’re going to charge more for this but not pay the writer more? That would be an issue.

              And how many of your books have they done this to already?
              Do they offer with/without ‘captioning’ options and prices?
              Was there a change in your payout when with/without ‘captioning’ was bought?

        • “I don’t appreciate the flippancy.”

          Do you appreciate that we don’t know yet if they’ve actually done this against any writers/publishers’ permission?

          Do you appreciate that trad-pub and their mouthpieces are going to scream bloody murder at/about anything that might be a better option for a writer than signing their rights away to a trad-publisher? And the idea that Audible has a trick that might make more people buy it scares the crap out of them.

          “They’re in it to make money, as we can expect every corporation to be… not to help us, or to consider our best interests. That’s our job.”

          So is the writer/publisher that signs on with Audible. Funny that Audible enhancing that ability to make the writer money scares some people so badly.

    • Audible folks aren’t nice guys but nowhere in the OP does it say they are enhancing *all* audiobooks.

      They do explicitly say it will only be for *some* audiobooks. They also say they *are* talking to publishers. And the sample they provided is a PD book they are free to do anything with.

      Where’s the crime? Advancing the state of the art? Shouldn’t we at least wait for an actual crime to be commited before condemning it? Or is any prospective change to be rejected upfront on general principle?

      • Sorry, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt from me, not after some of the other behaviors I’ve observed.

        They’re in it to make money, as we can expect every corporation to be… not to help us, or to consider our best interests. That’s our job.

        • Me, I have enough trouble with things that have happened to worry about what might (or might not) happen.

          On the other hand, if I can’t trust someone I just don’t deal with them. That way I don’t need to worry about the other shoe dropping.

          • Well sure, if you don’t trust people, you don’t work with them. But people sign contracts with companies believed to be reputable, only to have that turn out not to be true, and our response to that shouldn’t be ‘sucks to be you’, but rather ‘that sucks and something should be done about it.’

            If we don’t hang together as content creators, we will get steamrolled. It won’t be personal–the organizations taking advantage of us don’t know our names, or even care, so it can’t be–but it will hurt our ability to make a living. Maybe it’s my time serving as an officer of a writers’ organization, no matter how flawed, but I can’t look at stuff that might hurt us as a group and think ‘whatever.’

            I’m tired of writers thinking of distributors as their allies. Or retailers. Or (yes) publishers. The only people who really get us, and who understand our own interests, are other writers (and in general, in the modern age, any kind of original content creator). *Those* people are our allies. Everyone else? We keep an eye on them. Because if they haven’t misbehaved yet, it’s only a matter of time.

            • Authors are people and they each see the world just a bit differently. It’s a spectrum and trying to reduce it to binary choices is not going to draw everybody automatically to a single position. Solidarity has limits.

              I’ve already stated my case: Audible may or not be trustworthy but in this case they haven’t done anything wrong. Yet. I wait.

              Demanding yes–no lockstep can force the “yes, but”, “maybe”, and “not necessarilly” middle ground to contrarian positions. That helps none and can be counterproductive. A push towards us vs them often leads to “no, me”. Because everybody has their own personal value system: people can and agree on one thing and differ on another.

              Real life isn’t a Parliament or union; party loyalty doesn’t rule.

              The business world isn’t a place of friends, allies, or enemies. It’s more a place of enablers and obstacles. Many are both in varying degrees, few are 100% one or the other. All, however demand a price.

              Some see Amazon positively because they enable things they like, others see them negatively because they dislike the things they enable, and others simply because they dislike the price they require in return for their enabling.

              Different value systems in a world of gray, everybody angling for the best outcome for them.

              Agents I don’t trust; their longterm livelihood hinges on staying on the right side of publishers, not mine.

              Banks I trust just a little. And only to the extent that I must and only because (unlike agents) there are laws that limit tbeir actions.

              Amazon I trust–to do what is best for them. And as long as their interests enable mine and the price of their services is tolerable I’ll use them. They’re a tool. I do not expect them to sacrifice for me or give me preferential treatment; just be useful enough to continue dealing with them. The moment somebody else is more useful or their assistance stops being a plus is when I go elsewhere.

              Now, family I trust. They have to put up with me, no choice. They put up with me, I put up with them.

              Everybody else in the world of gray is on probation.
              And I expect to be on probation myself.

              Enablers, obstacles, fellow travellers; each on their own journey. Solidarity only goes so far.

            • If we don’t hang together as content creators, we will get steamrolled.

              Content creators will never hang together because they have different interests. They compete with other each other. Anyone remember Douglas Preston and Authors United? And that steam roller named KU? Many authors warned of it, and many other jumped aboard and prospered.

              Some are full time writers. Others are part-time smudges with day jobs. Some want publishers. Others want to use Amazon. Some like KU. Others hate it. Some like low prices and high volume. others want high prices and lower volume. Things that work for one author do not work for another. Some want every other author to do what they say. Others don’t care what anyone wants them to do. Some want independent authors to go away. Others are independent.

              As long as there are no barriers to entry for authors, there is no hope of unity. Many have no interest at all in unity. The supply of authors and manuscripts is so large no united group has any economic power.

              • Some write to market, some write for themselves.
                Some are pulp speed, others slow and deliberate.
                Some are serious about a professional life-sustaining career, others have “lesser” expectations.

                Expectations differ, outlooks differ.
                The value of a discussion site lies in the exchange of knowledge and ideas. An echo chamber of lockstep nodding heads gets boring.
                Contrarians are useful there.

        • They’re in it to make money, as we can expect every corporation to be…

          I have noticed the same thing about authors, as we can expect of every author.

            • I agree the observation that companies want to make money is a tangent.
              I agree the observation that authors want to make money is a tangent.
              I agree the observation that this applies to each and every member of both groups is a tangent.
              I can go forever.

    • I don’t see it as taking Audible’s side, so much as I think of the captions as offering a competitive advantage to authors. Especially since I don’t see where they are forcing any authors to offer this feature, even though there is a definite need for for the feature.

      I do want authors fight to makes sure the captions are either accurate or unneeded. Unneeded if the author offers those ebook + Audible buy deals, however that’s managed. And accurate if the author supplies the text themselves. Either way, I would want to require Audible to use an author-supplied text for captioning, which could address both copyright and quality concerns. Machine-produced captions are far too likely to be weapons-grade awful.

      It’s not clear [to me] how captioning in itself would threaten an author, unless the captions could somehow be stripped off and pirated separately. Fighting to make captions resistant to such shenanigans could be worth it.

      Are you picturing Audible pulling a Berry Gordy, and adding a superfluous byline to the captions? As in, the byline of the transcriber? IIRC, Gordy was said to sometimes add the byline of another writer — I think himself, or one his relatives — to a song’s lyrics, but he did jack all to write the song. The upshot was that the actual writer would get cheated of royalties, since the royalties would go to Gordy, too. Gordy is the reason I went looking for sites such as the Passive Voice 🙂

      If you’re picturing that kind of shenanigan, this is why I’d say that writers should insist that Audible can’t copyright the captions in any name except the author’s. Or author/narrator, however that’s supposed to work.

      I would be curious what specifically you think is the threat, if none of the potential ones I mentioned is the one you’re thinking of.

    • What M.C.A. said.

      Business, to me, is black and white. If Audible wants to transcribe an audio book for any reason, they should license both audio and transcription (limited print) rights to the work in question. They could do so by giving authors the opportunity to opt-in for a larger royalty share.

      To my mind, allowing Audible to transcribe an audio book without having licensed the right to do so is at least a very slippery slope.

  3. I don’t understand why anyone’s taking Audible’s side here.

    Easy. I see it as a profit maximizing step at no cost to the author.

    But, I fully understand why others object. That’s easy, too.

    However, my understanding stretches only as far as my abilities. I don’t understand what use of some IP has to do with the issue.

  4. How old is this list of links? I could only read three of the articles and they weren’t particularly well-researched. I’m assuming the “404 Not Found” ones were better.

    Disappointing to see there was no discussion of accessibility and IP law back in the 2009 articles concerning text-to-speech on Kindle Keyboards. They were an excellent platform for blind users in some ways easier to navigate than the Fire tablets (which still offer text-to-speech).

    And as Felix has pointed out, Amazon did not announce that Audible Captions would be offered for all audiobooks to all customers. They announced it on select audiobooks to Audible subscribers and schools. If this is an optional feature that is another set of rights that can be sold by authors to publishers that makes audiobooks more profitable for all involved, how is this bad for authors? It does say something that Amazon did not do a good job of conveying that possibility and that Amazon has burned goodwill and trust in the past with publishers and authors.

  5. This issue is a very simple one. You signed a contract with Audible. That contract either gives Audible the right to include captions or it does not. If it does, you have only yourself to blame. Or perhaps your lawyers or other advisers who failed to see or point this out to you. If it does not and Amazon claims it does, a Court may need to decide the issue, which can be stressful and expensive. This is where the Authors Guild should be concentrating on helping, either by negotiation with Audible or if necessary funding a class action on behalf of the authors.

    With innovation the norm, Authors and their advisers need to be very careful to spell out exactly what rights are being licensed or sold.

    I suspect captioning rights have little or no value in any event. The whingeing of traditional publishers about this is quite breathtaking given the extent of their own rights-grabs.

    • It’s smart to let the guys with the most money and lawyers fight it out because the rest of us can’t afford to. In the early days of fighting ebook pirates, many of us had the email addresses of the agents, etc., of the biggest and richest authors. If we saw a Harry Potter at a site that had our stolen books, we sent that info to JKR’s agent, and the site was closed.

      • Exactly Marilynn. It’s much better to get someone who can afford it to take up the fight, if of course there is a reasonable argument. I would also have thought that this function would be a very important one in any true Authors Guild. Though of course some argue that this Guild would be more accurately entitled the Publishers Guild.

      • Oh, pirates. Are you familiar with fansubs? Translation if you’re not: fansubs are what’s made when fans of a foreign show or movie make their own subtitles on the video. They frequently post them to YouTube. I always understood the fansubbers rationale to be that a legit subtitled version either doesn’t exist in their country, or a legit version does exist, but its subtitles are wrong.

        Now I’m wondering if, once it’s clear that an audiobook can be captioned, popular audiobooks, e.g. Harry Potter, that don’t have the captions could end up being “fancaptioned.”

        Having seen fanbased lyric videos for popular songs, and discussions in the comments about whether the lyrics are accurate, I wouldn’t be confident of the results of fancaptioning 🙂 … but the “sensible pirates” would probably pirate the ebook in tandem with the non-captioned audio book, and smash them together.

        Audible mentions foreign languages being part of the reason for this caption feature, so some variant of fansub piracy may end up coming to audio books, too.

  6. Useful to people or not (and valuable or not), if Audible/Amazon does not have the licensing rights stated in contract to do this, then they cannot.

    Might they try to slip it by? Sure. Publishers do that all the time. Look at the uproar when some publishers decided that print rights also gave them ebook rights in the early ebook days. The publishers lost that one. The electronic book rights had to be expressly given (we’ll put aside how sneaky the publishers were in later sending out appendums to author contracts, which so many authors signed without knowing or even bothering to understand that they were signing. Really bad business decision). And it’s also why publishing contracts started using the phrases such as “technologies/formats known and all technologies/formats invented in the future” in their contracts. So they can continue to try and snip away at licenses for future used formats, technologies, and distribution options without further compensation to the author.

    It’s a slippery slope to losing rights to pieces of your magic pies in the Magic Bakery (, and so many times it starts with the smallest slices. A smart business-minded author keeps track of all those slices and guards them as the valuable pieces they are.

    “They should have asked writers to opt in, and they should have asked for the rights rather than deciding to do it in-house, and they didn’t.” and “I am absolutely not happy with them deciding they *own my captioning rights* without negotiation or consultation.”

    Agreed and agreed.

    I don’t know if this licensing right has monetary value to me. However, I do object to a company coming and telling me, “I know it’s not in our contract, but we are going to use this licensing right and do it to your product. We aren’t going to pay you. We aren’t going to ask permission. We don’t care that it isn’t expressly stated in your contract. We are just going to do it.”

    Uh, no. I expect at LEAST the courtesy of a back-and-forth dialogue with the company first. As well as having the right to say, “I own this intellectual property, not you. I didn’t license it to you to start with, and I’m using my legal right under US copyright law to take the option to say NO (or yes).”

    • “Uh, no. I expect at LEAST the courtesy of a back-and-forth dialogue with the company first.”

      Quick and honest question here. Do we know of any writer/publisher that this was done to without them being asked and them agreeing to having it done?

      If no one can honestly reply ‘YES’ to this question, then this whole discussion is a tempest in a teacup over nothing at all.

      Well, other than Amazon is trying something new and trad-pub and their muppets are crying that yet again the sky is falling and other ADS …

      • And as I mentioned to JA Marlow in a different conversation about this, If it’s not explicitly granted in the contract, the right hasn’t been granted at all.

        Oh, and please try to read things with at least a modicum of common sense before trying to devolve the conversation to the level of personal insults.

        • Ashe. Perhaps that should be true. But it is not. A grant of rights can carry with it other rights incidental or ancillary to those rights. Or the grant can be in ambiguous terms. This may not be obvious at the time, but only emerge in the future with some new technology. For example, the definition of a book was once a relatively simple thing. Now it is far from simple.

          If you or others have a contract with Audible and want more money for captioning rights, you need professional advice as to whether you in fact retain those rights. There was earlier discussion, perhaps in the comments to the original thread, about possible contract language. If the grant is of rights to an audio recording and the caption is being produced electronically in real time from that audio recording, without any regard to the actual ebook, it certainly seems to be arguable that the captioning is covered by the license. That it is simply a way of using the rights granted in a manner not envisioned by one or perhaps both of the parties. This would depend of course on the proper construction of the words of the grant in context with the rest of the contract.

          It is simply wishful thinking to say captioning is not mentioned so cannot have been granted, hence if they want to caption they must give me more money!

          • See below. Audio with auto-captioning is simply a modified audio format.

            (A note that I should have appended in that comment – this is applicable only to anyone that has to take the standard Audible contract. Whether Randy Penguin has to suck this up or not is dependent on their contract, which is highly unlikely to be the “boilerplate.”)

            • Text is not audio.

              Closed captioning for movies/TV are required by law because of the Disabilities Act. Because movies and TV don’t have an alternative for those who are hearing impaired.

              BUT AUDIO BOOKS DO! They are called paper books and ebooks.

              It really is comparing apples to oranges. Unless, like I asked below, there is a legal precedence saying that they are the same.

              Otherwise, Audible is claiming that they have the rights to BOTH audiobooks and text-based books (print and ebooks).

              (And all bets are off if the contract says otherwise. Which is why it’s so important to read and understand the contract you are agreeing to.)

              • “Otherwise, Audible is claiming that they have the rights to BOTH audiobooks and text-based books (print and ebooks).”

                No they are not. There is no claim for text-based books. Simply for captioning. And this captioning as I understand it is produced totally independently of the text of the book, apparently being produced electronically from the audio recording. And in a form tied to that recording and not suitable for reading the whole book. Whether such captioning violates the authors copyright in the text-based book depends on the scope of the grant, as discussed above.

                • It would be interesting to compare the actual text with text the captioning software produces from the audio.

                • They are using the same speech recognition as Alexa and if they have a way for readers to submit error reports it may be a way to improve the Alexa software.

                  As for the accessibility argument captioned speech may still be of use to the partially deaf, aka, many older people. The ability to hear higher pitched sounds diminishes overtime and so an audio book listener may be able to hear and still wish to enjoy a voiced book but also appreciate captions. It could also be useful to dyslexics or individuals with reading and audio cognitive integration deficits that find computer generated speech more difficult to match to displayed text than they do the natural human voice.

      • “Quick and honest question here. Do we know of any writer/publisher that this was done to without them being asked and them agreeing to having it done?”

        This is a new feature that has only just now been announced. And so far, only announced to news outlets, starting with USA Today by Audible founder and CEO Don Katz. I haven’t found any official announcement at the Audible site itself.

        From the announcement: “The Captions feature was born out of Audible’s work with students in its Newark, New Jersey, backyard, where the company provided 11,000 public high school students free access to the service. Audible plans to offer the follow-along feature to more than 150,000 students across the country through the next calendar school year.

        Students will be given access to audio bundles featuring more than 75 Captions-ready titles, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal) to Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (Nick Offerman).

        But Captions will be available on hundreds of thousands of audiobooks at launch to any Audible member.” from USA Today.

        They don’t say or list all the books that were a part of that trial to those 11,000 public high school students. The telling part is that when the full program launches in September that “hundreds of thousands of audiobooks at launch to any Audible member.”


        “Audible wouldn’t say which books would get the feature, only that “titles that can be transcribed at a sufficiently high confidence rate” will be included. It’s planning to release the feature in early September “to roll out with the 2019 school year.” (The Verge)

        Hundreds of thousands.

        Which books? Again, we have no idea.

        Really feels like Amazon put the cart before the horse, announcing this before even finalizing the details with publishers, either big, small, or medium.

        This is why so many of us watch TPV for news and clues as to what is happening in the publishing world. So that we are proactive instead of reactive AFTER things happen. We continue to educate ourselves so we can make good business decisions.

        By the way, saying that Amazon might be wrong to do something does not automatically mean that one has ADS (and I am not a part of the big publishing world. I’m an Indie and have been right from the start as I write the type of fun adventure science fiction with upbeat endings that most big publishers don’t want any part of). It means we are smart business people watching how our business partners are affecting OUR business. Again, so we can make good business decisions.

        Amazon is not perfect. Amazon does not always make the right decisions. Saying so does not automatically equal ADS.

        (By the way, I LOVE the Muppets.)

        • Heh, or the whole announcement thing might have been to test the waters and see how bad the churn was.

          So if Jeff reads TPV I’m sure he’s changed his mind (or double-checked with his legal department on what rights they do have it those contracts writers signed with Audible.)

          Considering the POTUS “wants” to stick the DoJ up Amazon’s tail, I won’t be betting that despite what’s being said here Amazon has dotted all their I’s and crossed their T’s.

    • I love Muppets, too. Or at least the Fraggle Muppets, as I didn’t pay too much attention to the Sesame Street ones.

      Per the other post, Audible is using public domain books. I suspect they’re a test case, but for a different reason: accessibility.

      If you’re into web design at all, this question comes up often: how to make sites more accessible to the blind, or people with poor eyesight? For example, what color text is readable against what color background? Scroll to point 2 at the link for a list of sites that answer that question. I remember JK Rowling getting kudos because her pre-Pottermore website was friendly to the blind (I would assume the Pottermore site is coded the same way, since it’s commercial). The next big thing on that front looks to be “high contrast design.”

      Amazon’s KDP won’t allow authors to use fixed size fonts, e.g., a font that’s 12pt. It calls for scalable units: em, rem, or percents, or 1em, 1rem, 5%, etc. That’s how it is on the better websites, too (except add vh and vw). It’s all because fixed-size units are inaccessible, but text in scalable units can be adjusted by the reader to a size that’s easy to read. Now I wonder if KDP’s requirement was strictly customer-centric, or could they also have been heading off lawsuits?

      Websites have been sued for being inaccessible. It’s easy to target government and commerce sites (Amazon) for being inaccessible to the blind. And universities such as Harvard and MIT were sued because their videos weren’t captioned for the deaf.

      That’s why I don’t think it’s an accident that Audible is talking about using this feature for schools. Especially in tandem with them using captions on public domain books, which are often assigned to students. That may be an important clue as to where this is heading, especially now that Audible has proven it’s possible to add captions to audiobooks. Programs that air on TV are already required to have captions; I wouldn’t be surprised if audiobooks end up with the same requirement.

      I would be curious to to know whether captioning rights were ever specifically licensed by authors whose books are turned into TV shows. Three I can think of — The Dresden Files, The Expanse, Rizzoli & Isles — all aired after captioning was a legal requirement on TV shows. Can an author reject captioning on the grounds of copyright, if legally the caption must exist?

      • Further to my point on accessibility: Kindle ebooks already include a “dyslexic font.” What is that font if not an accommodation?

        Who might be using audiobooks exclusive to text-based books? The dyslexic, for whom long texts can be a chore to read. But like hearing people, dyslexics would also wonder if they heard something correctly, which is the reason a lot of us on the other thread said we used captions for TV shows.

        Where might there be a population of dyslexics compelled to read? Schools. Which, again, could be the reason Audible is working with schools on this to begin with.

        On the text vs. audio front — whenever I go to turn on captions on a TV show, that function is always in the audio menu. That’s not an accident; it’s because captions are technically descriptions. When they accompany photos, they’re photo descriptions. When they accompany audio, they’re audio descriptions. You’ll see them referred to that way in some software programs.

        Examples: in a TV show, if a soundtrack is playing, the caption will tell you what the song is (sometimes) or it just tells you that a song is playing. If a dog barks, the caption will say “dog barking.” If a glass breaks, the caption will say “glass breaking.”

        I’m not sure how safe a bet it is to treat audio without captions as a different format than audio with captions. Especially if there comes a day when the former is not legally permitted for a commercial product, such as an audiobook.

        My blind aunt listens to the TV, but I suspect that if there was a way to have the TV describe the visual parts of a scene, that would become a requirement, too. It’s probably a safe bet, anyway.

          • Oh, that sounds cool! She never mentioned the possibility, so I don’t think she knows about it. I’ll look for that feature on her TV the next time I visit her, and set it up for her.

            I didn’t expect that feature to already exist. That’s cool. And it’s already required, so I expect my aunt’s TV will definitely have it. Thanks for the alert 🙂

      • Acessibility is very draconian. And it supercedes most everything.

        One reason Amazon killed the Kindle DX is because they and tbe Universities tbey were working with (the market DX was meant for) were sued under ADA and in the settlement the Universities agreed to never deploy an ebook reader that can’t be used by the blind.

        Limited accessibility is requited of a lot of products, generally because somebody somewhere griped.

        Windows has a voice guidance and a magnification cursor for accessibility and all Kindles now have voice guidance built-in, even the Basic.

        Another point to consider is there is a difference between captions and subtitles. DVD and BluRays have both; typically listed as english and english for the audio impaired. Lately a third accessibility option has been appearing, a narrative audio track. That option shows on the volume track.

        The difference appears to be that captions are tied to the audio track but subtitles are independent of audio so you can mix and match: english audio with spanish, Portuguese, Italian, or whatever subtitles or vice versa.

        (Captions are often computer generated but subtitles, being an older tech, seem to be human generated.)

        Not sure if the captions vs subtitles difference is merely usage or legal. But if it’s a legal distinction things could get testy.

  7. While we’re being disagreeable with PG – I truly hate the “next page” that is now coming up. (It is so far from the PV theme that my first thought was that you had been hacked!)

    • I hadn’t noticed that, WO.

      I’ll check it out.

      As you may already know, I’m using an ancient WordPress theme and have been considering an alternative for a long time.

  8. Not having any titles in Audible, nor any even medium-term plans for such, it took me until today to bestir myself to dig up the actual agreement.

    Here’s the operative phrase, whether you take the exclusive or non-exclusive license option: “license to use, reproduce, display, market, sell and distribute the Audiobook throughout the Territory in all formats now known or hereafter invented”

    An auto-captioned audio book is a format, just like a Netflix movie with or without captions turned on is a format.

    The objectors, right or wrong about the ethics of the issue, are hosed.

    • The current agreement wording I found on the Audible site is this:

      “You grant Audible the exclusive license to use, reproduce, display, market, sell and distribute the Audiobook throughout the Territory in all formats now known or hereafter invented from the date you accept this Agreement until the date that is 7 years from such date (such 7 year period, the “Initial Distribution Period”).”

      Note that it says the “Audiobook.” Not text. Nowhere is text mentioned. Audio is a different format and license than text. If it weren’t, then the big publishers would be hosing authors right and left using/selling/producing audio rights despite the right not being specifically mentioned in the publishing contract.

      Now, this is only the current agreement. I have never used Audible because I haven’t liked some of their terms (I’m looking at other producers and distributors of audio books), so I don’t know if the phrasing is different in older Audible agreements.

      This I do not know (since it has been mentioned that there are legal rulings for movies/TV and captions): Audio books are available for those with sight limitations/disabilities. Ebooks/paper books are available for those with hearing limitations/disabilities. Is there a legal precedence that says that Ebooks/paper books MUST have audio included for those with disabilities even though the other format is available? And in the reverse, MUST audio books have captions for those with disabilities even though the other format is already available? Or is comparing captioning for movies/TV to the world of ebooks/paper books/audio books comparing apples to oranges?

      • Computer produced captions are a reproduction of the audiobook. So are on the fly captions.
        (Different argument if they were working from the ebook.)

        They were licensed an audio file they can process as they see fit: volume, dynamic range, compression, chapter breaks,meta data, etc. Lots of things are covered by those terms.

        Also, how do you *display* an audiobook?

        A good question is when did Audible adopt that language?
        If was after the Kindle TTS catfight it means they were inspired by tbe BPHs claims that TTS is performance and not rendering.

        No, it is not clear cut.
        Unleash the hounds of law because this is headed to court.

        • “Unleash the hounds of law because this is headed to court.”

          Or a simple letter from Audible asking each writer/publisher if they have a problem with this new mode.

          If they answer ‘No problem’, life goes on.

          If they scream ‘No way Skippy!’, then they find the Audibles marked as ‘unfriendly to those with hearing issues’.

          (Or, they simply point out in the signed contract that the rights were actually given. In which case the writer/publisher can pull their Audibles.)

          We’ll know for sure in a couple of months. 😉

          ((me busy ordering the BIG box of popcorn!))

    • That brought to mind the terms HarperCollins used to win the lawsuit over JULIE OF THE WOLVES.

      Same present and future format terms.

  9. There is room for argument but my initial and not particularly well considered view is that captions displayed with an audiobook in this form are simply ancillary to the use of the audiobook. Also that an audiobook with these types of captions produced from that book (and not from the text) would simply be regarded as another audiobook format.

    • That appears to be the Audible position.
      How strong it is will depend on whether the captions are embedded with the audio, meta data, DRM, etc or generated at playback time.
      A lot stronger if the former.

      “How” matters as much as “what”.

      • Interesting question. If it’s Alexa generated it probably will require an Internet connection to generate captions while playing. I suppose a listener could do the same thing playing an audio book on one device and setting it down next to a second running dictation software. So no information at all needs to be embedded in the audio stream other than audio….

        • Interestingly, part of Audible’s legal foundation is the Microsoft trial where MS defended the right to design their products as they see fit. Which they won.

          One thing this mess highlights is that not only do authors need at least some basic business literacy, but also digital technology literacy is increasigly mandatory. Not just Publishers’ Weekly but also the likes of Cnet and ZDnet.

          At least the “damage”, if any, is time limited (7 years max?) and not life of copyright.

      • I would think, also, that any IP lawyer that wanted to get into this dispute would tell his or her clients that they do NOT want to go with the “giving the customer a free ebook” argument.

        The only similarity with ebooks is that text is displayed on the screen. There is no Wordwise. There is apparently not an option to change the type font or size, or the background. There is no “page flip” – and, indeed, no easy way to go back or forward even a paragraph or two, as anyone who’s ever tried to get to just the right position on a YouTube video can testify (well, maybe back – does Audible have the tool to rewind ten seconds like the video sites?)

  10. There are many things that are audio only that could benefit from this type of captioning. Podcasts, interviews, audio books that are not available as e-books (or print books).

    I know I have at least 2 audio only books that do not have published text versions at this time so those arguing “just get the (e)book” are not seeing the whole picture. And that doesn’t include the fiction podcasts that are out there.

    I think Audible is generally limited to audio books but I would love to have this technology for some of the podcasts I listen to, accents can be hard.

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