Major US publishers have filed a lawsuit against Amazon's audiobook company Audible in a row over a new speech-to-text feature which they say is a violation of copyright law.
The lawsuit, filed by Association of American Publishers (AAP), was filed in response to recent public statements from Audible, in which it announced its planned September rollout of a feature called “Audible Captions" which allows US customers to read along to their audiobooks.
AAP member companies Chronicle Books, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster are all named as plaintiffs on the suit, which asserts claims of willful copyright infringement against Audible.
In a statement, AAP added the suit "documents the company’s efforts to take for itself cross-format features that incorporate both audio and electronic text, outside of the careful decision-making, financial participation, copyright protection, and quality control of copyright owners."
AAP, which has branded the speech-to-text feature "deeply concerning" claims the captions risk as "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."
The complaint contrasts Audible’s machine-generated text with existing offerings, including Audible’s own Immersion feature, which also provides text and audio simultaneously, "but operates lawfully—and without errors— due to the permission, cooperation, and financial participation of the books’ underlying creators," added AAP.
President and c.e.o. of AAP Maria A Pallante said: “We are extremely disappointed by Audible’s deliberate disregard of authors, publishers, and copyright law. 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.”
Responding to the suit, Audible said in a statement: “We are surprised and disappointed by this action and any implication that we have not been speaking and working with publishers about this feature, which has not yet launched. Captions was developed because we, like so many leading educators and parents, want to help kids who are not reading engage more through listening. 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. We disagree with the claims that this violates any rights and look forward to working with publishers and members of the professional creative community to help them better understand the educational and accessibility benefits of this innovation.”