Some of the world's largest book publishers have filed a lawsuit against Amazon-based audiobook company Audible. The lawsuit related to a new controversial role that, according to the literary industry, violates copyright law.
The lawsuit filed with the Southern District Court in New York includes the Big Five: Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. These include San Francisco-based publisher Chronicle Books and Scholastic, the largest children's publisher, who owns the publishing rights to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games . All seven plaintiffs are members of the Association of American Publishers.
Audible's new subtitles launched last month are being challenged by publishers. The feature uses machine learning to translate spoken words into written ones so that users can read along while listening to an audiobook. The problem, however, is that Audible does so on the basis of audiobook records that have separate licenses for physical books and e-books. The company does not seem to receive the necessary licenses to reproduce the written versions of these works.
Because Audible relies on artificial intelligence, the company apparently tries to make a distinction between a newly created piece of text created with AI based on an audio recording and the virtually identical textual version of the book that was the audiobook from. At the time of his launch, Audible CEO Don Katz put captions as a pedagogical feature for schools, saying, "We know from years of work that parents and educators, in particular, understand that an audio experience with well-composed words is really important for learner development. "
Audible was not immediately available for comments.
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At the heart of the case is the determination of the transformative nature of AI-generated audio transcription and whether this constitutes copyright infringement of a written work. The case has a strong counterpart to a previous Amazon controversy a decade ago when the company attempted to launch a text-to-speech feature on its Kindle platform, which does exactly what Amazon Captions does today, however reverse order.
The then publishers were angry and accused Amazon of trampling on the emerging market for audiobooks and the licensing rights that publishers believed would help them become a flourishing company. Amazon eventually gave in and allowed publishers to disable the Kindle's text-to-speech feature following a massive outcry by the US author Guild.
Publisher and the Authors Guild have fought a similar battle over the past month. After the feature was announced, the Authors Guild issued a statement entitled, "Existing ACX and Audible Agreements do not give Audible the right to create text versions of audiobooks." It will inevitably lead to fewer e-book sales and lower royalties for authors for both their traditionally published and self-published books. "
was largely silent on the matter and told The Verge last month that it" disagreed with this interpretation "from the Authors Guild, but the company formally declined to make further comments. Audible also refused to comment on whether it would work with publishers to establish a form of licensing that would allow for the presence of the Audible Captions feature while fairly rewarding rightholders.
In a recent statement, the Authors Guild expressed its support for the lawsuit. "Without permission and in violation of his contracts with publishers, Audible has added a text function to his audiobooks. Text and audio are different book markets, and Audible is licensed only for audio, "writes Mary Rasenberger, the executive director of the Authors Guild of copyright on the titles. "
Interestingly enough, some of the books for which Audible added support for subtitles come from Doug Preston, president of the Authors Guild, who was not satisfied. "My contract is unequivocal that the only rights that Audible transmits are voice recording and playback. The right to reproduce text in any form is expressly denied, "Preston said in a statement. "I can not believe that Audible has so little respect for authors, contract promises, and copyrights that it thinks it can only help itself to gain rights that it does not have." There is a simple English word to describe this: and that is theft.
Update August 23, 2:40 pm ET: Statements have been added to the Authors Guild.