Amazon-owned Audible and major publishers settle lawsuit over audiobook translation feature

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Amazon-owned Audible and a group of major book publishers settled a copyright lawsuit filed last year over a feature called Captions that transcribes audiobooks to text.

The settlement between Audible and the seven publishers that sued the company last year — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon Schuster, Chronicle Books and Scholastic — is sealed. However, a proposed dismissal and injunction document filed last week says Audible is barred from “creating, generating, reproducing … written text derived from the audiobook versions of Publishers’ Works for any product or service created or offered by Audible,” unless it gets authorization first.

Audible declined to comment.

The Captions program hasn’t progressed beyond a trial focused on public domain content for students. Publisher’s Weekly reported Audible doesn’t plan to expand the program further for the time being, and the company won’t include any copyrighted works in the Captions program without first getting permission.

The Captions feature uses machine learning to transcribe audiobook recordings into written words, so users can follow along while listening. About a month after the feature was announced — before it even launched — the publishers sued, alleging that Captions amounted to copyright infringement.

The settlement covers not just the seven plaintiffs in the suit, but also members of the Association of American Publishers. The AAP issued the following statement in response to the settlement:

“AAP, the Plaintiffs, and Audible have resolved their pending litigation. Audible has agreed that it will obtain permission from any AAP Members that are in good standing with AAP before moving forward with Audible Captions for their works.”

Amazon acquired Audible in 2008 for $300 million. The 24-year-old company is mostly known for audiobooks, however it has also become a big player in the growing podcast industry and other forms of audio entertainment.

Audible’s catalog has grown to more than 475,000 programs. Audible in December brought in Bob Carrigan, the former chair of a company called Genscape that provides data and analytics to energy markets, to be its new CEO.

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