October 7, 2019
Not (yet) time to settle in publishers’s suit against Audible
by Ryan Harrington
Like a good legal thriller (even better, a radio serial), the story of Audible’s “Captions” program has us anticipating every new twist and turn.
To recap the last few weeks of action: Audible, Amazon’s audio division, has introduced a program that transcribes audiobooks to text, right there on the device you’re using to listen. In response, a group of major publishers banded together to push back in court, arguing that a transcribed audiobook is really just an ebook, and therefore Amazon is violating copyright.
When we last left off, our own Athena Bryan wrote:
Andrew Albanese reports for [Publishers Weekly] that Judge Caproni was “mostly receptive” to the publishers’ case, which were not limited to the semantics about how one “reads” and “book,” but also included the arguments that Amazon was “seizing what should be a negotiated right to gain a competitive advantage over its competitors” and that the Captions program would “harm the market for books, e-books, and immersion reading; weaken rightsholders’ ability to license works in other markets; “devalue and cheapen” those rights by offering the feature as a free add-on; and finally “cause reputational harm to authors and publishers” with their shoddy transcriptions.
Now, it seems that Audible might feel that they’re losing the fight. In a follow up for Publishers Weekly last week, Albanese reports that “in a letter to the court on Thursday, lawyers for Audible suggested a 30-day hold on the litigation over its Captions program, and a referral to a magistrate judge to oversee settlement talks during that period.”
That request was denied by Judge Caproni, as it can only be accepted if all parties agree that the settlement talks would actually be productive. The publishers don’t think those talks would be productive, and believe they would represent more of a stall tactic than a sincere desire to settle.
Count on us to let you know when they’ve reached a decision … or get closer to one.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.