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Audible Captions lawsuit reaches settlement

24 March 2020

A lawsuit filed by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) against Amazon’s audiobook company Audible reached its conclusion at the beginning of the month with the granting of a final injunction restraining Audible from including AAP member works in its captions programme without permission.

In July 2019 Audible announced the launch of a new ‘Captions’ function which would allow users to read text whilst listening to their chosen audiobook, as well as looking up and translating words.

However, before the Captions functionality could be rolled out a number of major US publishers and AAP member companies filed legal action in the US, arguing that the Captions feature was a copyright violation and it “takes publishers’ proprietary audiobooks, converts the narration into unauthorised text, and distributes the entire text of these ‘new’ digital books to Audible’s customers.”

Audible initially responded to the claim by countering that this was in essence a contractual dispute and that claims over copyright should be dismissed, and in any case the Captions function was designed to enhance users’ audio experience and was protected by the US copyright exemption of fair use.

Neither side’s arguments ended up being put to the test as a letter was filed at the beginning of 2020 in the New York federal court announcing that the parties had resolved their dispute and would be submitting settlement documents.

A recently unsealed agreement now reveals the terms of the final settlement. First, Audible are to pay an undisclosed sum to each of the plaintiff publishers and the AAP – the parties have elected to keep the payment amounts confidential by arguing that disclosure of such, risks creating the impression that “the settlement amount reflects the monetary values of the claims, which is not true.” Further, a final injunction permanently restrains Audible from including AAP member works in their captions programme without permission.

For now, Captions remains limited to a select catalogue of captions-enabled public domain works available to students in US school districts, and Audible has since clarified that they will “obtain permission from all publishers (including AAP and non-AAP members) before moving forward with enabling Audible Captions for titles not in public domain.”

This lawsuit emphasises the challenges that arise from new digital products, particularly those which combine text and audio functionality, and the importance of considering the scope of rights granted and the limits of copyright exceptions and limitations.

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