Audible calls for court to dismiss Captions copyright lawsuit

Audible calls for court to dismiss Captions copyright lawsuit

Audible has argued a federal court to reject a copyright lawsuit filed by seven publishers against its Captions speech-to-text feature. 

Amazon's audiobook company had planned to rollout “Audible Captions” which allows US customers to read along to their audiobooks in September, a feature that Association of American Publishers (AAP) member companies including the Big Five say is a violation of copyright law, in a lawsuit filed last month. 

In a court-filing lawyers for Audible Inc moved to dismiss the case, adding it is a contract dispute rather than a copyright matter. The filing adds that if the copyright case proceeds then Captions is covered by fair use. 

"Plaintiffs claim that Audible Captions violates their copyrights and will 'undermine the entire book industry the moment it becomes available.' These claims and predictions are factually unfounded, provide no basis for injunctive relief, and, indeed, fail as a matter of law," reads Audible's filing. 

The plaintiffs, including Chronicle Books, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, Scholastic and Simon & Schuster, filed a lawsuit on 23rd August calling for a judge to stop Audible from including their works in the programme launch without their permission. Audible later agreed to exclude works from those publishers until a judge rules on a preliminary injunction.

Audible's lawyers said the Captions feature "works just as it name implies" with customers listening to an audiobook seeing "snippets of text, similar to closed captioning or
subtitles, briefly appear on the screen, word-by-word, in sync with the narration."

The filing adds: "Plaintiffs allege that Audible 'will offer as a free add-on' to its audiobooks 'the entire written text' of the underlying books, purportedly using 'convoluted technology' to steal this “'Distributed Text' as a 'stand-in' for a paper or e-book. Plaintiffs thus paint Audible and its customers as copyright pirates guilty of 'classic, willful copyright infringement.'These allegations misrepresent the relationships among the parties, how Audible Captions works, and several core principles of copyright law."

In response to calls for a preliminary injunction, Audible lawyers called the publishers' copyright claims "scare tactics" and said the publishers cannot show they will be harmed by Captions. 

The filing concludes: "Plaintiffs claim they are the ones who 'promote literacy, defend freedom of speech, advance scientific progress, stimulating intellectual and cultural discourse that is central to a healthy democratic society, and foster the joy of storytelling. Yet, in response to Audible's efforts to support those same ideals, Plaintiffs show only sneering contempt."

Following the publication of the briefing from 12th September, AAP spokesman John McKay told The Bookseller: “AAP and its member companies strongly disagree that Audible Captions is transformative under the case law of fair use.  Audible has a responsibility to obtain permission from publishers and authors, both of whom have served the educational marketplace and general reading public for hundreds of years.  For the reasons noted in the complaint, AAP and its member companies are confident that Audible Captions will be shown to be willful copyright infringement.”

The publishers now have an opportunity to respond to Audible's opposition to the preliminary injunction in a 20-page brief.