Audible Captioning Feature Drives Publishers to Court

MANHATTAN (CN) — Seven of the world’s top literary publishers brought a federal copyright complaint Friday in response to an announcement by Amazon-owned Audible of its plan to roll out a new caption service with its e-books.

“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,” says the complaint, filed in Manhattan this morning by Kirkland & Ellis attorney Dale Cendali.

Led by publishing house Chronicle Books, whose authors include the rapper Snoop Dogg, the complaint accuses Audible of seeking to take for itself both the audio and electronic text outside of the financial participation of copyright owners.

Audible Captions is set for release on Sept. 10 but, according to the complaint, will flout “the quality control that readers have come to expect from publishers and authors.”

“Indeed, Audible has admitted to publishers that up to 6% of the distributed text may contain transcription errors, the equivalent of 18 full pages of a 300-page book (6,000 errors in a 100,000 word book),” the complaint states.

The Association of American Publishers is not a party to the suit, but the group’s president called Audible’s conduct disappointing.

“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,” Maria Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said in a statement.

A spokesman for Audible meanwhile expressed disappointment as well, emphasizing that it only rolled out Audible Captions after extensive talks with the publishers.

“Captions was developed because we, like so many leading educators and parents, want to help kids who are not reading engage more through listening,” the company said in a statement. “This feature would allow such listeners to follow along with a few lines of machine-generated text as they listen to the audio performance. It is not and was never intended to be a book.”

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