January 17, 2020

It’s time! Audible settles lawsuit over audiobook Captions


We have been closely following the ongoing Audible debacle over the last six months months or so: read our latest coverage here and here. Now ready yourself for the next instalment!

According to the Audio Publishers Association, Audible took $940m of sales in the US in 2018 and £69 million in the UK: in the world of audiobooks, they are top dog. In September 2019 they were supposed to launch “Captions,” a new technology that would will allow listeners to see machine-generated text at the same time as listening to the audiobook. View for yourself how it is supposed to work here. Audible were emphatic that they had done no wrong displaying ALL the words of a book in tandem with the audio, saying in a statement:

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.

Unsurprisingly, book publishers were having none of this, and launched a law suit against Audible (including Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishers and Macmillan Publishers and Scohlastic). After months of negotiations, we finally have a verdict. Despite their “emphatic” denial of rights violation, Audible have settled in the lawsuit, with company attorneys filing a letter this week in federal court reading:

We write on behalf of all parties. In furtherance of my letter, dated December 27, 2019, we are pleased to inform the Court that the parties have resolved their disputes.

The parties respectfully request until January 21, 2020 to allow the parties to obtain signatures on the settlement documents and submit them to the Court for its approval.

Bad luck, Audible. Finding a loophole around having only audio/performance rights, not written rights may have seemed clever, but it has apparently backfired. As judge Valerie Caproni succinctly put during September’s trial, as reported by Publishers Weekly: “What do you mean it’s not a reading experience? . . . It’s words.”

We will have to wait and see what the settlement will involve, but it seems like a lot of money will be moving hands. Will Captions be entirely scraped? More will follow over the coming weeks…



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.