Top publishers sue Audible for copyright infringement

Publishers contend mistakes include transcribing the Yiddish expression “mazel tov” as “mazel tough.”

By Hillel Italie / Associated Press

NEW YORK — Some of the country’s top publishers are suing Audible, citing copyright infringement as they ask a federal judge to enjoin the audiobook producer-distributor’s planned use of captions for an education-driven program.

The so-called “Big Five” of publishing — Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishers and Macmillan Publishers — are among the plaintiffs in the suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The legal action comes in response to “Audible Captions,” which Audible announced in July and indicated would be formally launched as students return this fall, with titles including “Catch-22,” ”The Hunger Games” and “The Hate U Give.”

“Audible Captions takes publishers’ proprietary audiobooks, converts the narration into unauthorized text, and distributes the entire text of these ‘new’ digital books to Audible’s customers,” the lawsuit reads. “Audible’s actions — taking copyrighted works and repurposing them for its own benefit without permission — are the kind of quintessential infringement that the Copyright Act directly forbids.”

Other publishers suing are Scholastic and Chronicle Books. Audible, which is owned by Amazon.com and is the dominant producer in the thriving audiobook market, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Maria Pallante, who heads the Association of American Publishers, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that repeated efforts to address its concerns with Audible — including cease-and-desist letters — had failed to produce any changes.

“They said something along the lines of ‘We’ve received your communications and considered them and don’t agree with them and do not intend to stop,’” said Pallante, the trade group’s president and CEO.

Audible Captions would be available for free to students and also could be used by Audible members who already pay a monthly fee. A video demonstration of the program uses Dickens’ “David Copperfield” as an example and shows computer-generated words appearing on the screen of a smartphone as the narrator reads from the text. In announcing Audible Captions, company founder Don Katz said the program would help young people who struggle to read books.

“We know from years and years of work, that parents and educators, in particular, understand that an audio experience of well-composed words is really important in developing learners,” Katz told USA Today in July.

In Friday’s lawsuit, publishers contend that Audible has acknowledged that up to 6% of a given book’s captions would be erroneous, with mistakes including transcribing the Yiddish expression “mazel tov” as “mazel tough.”

In addition to enjoining Audible Captions, publishers in Friday’s lawsuit are seeking an undetermined amount of damages “they have sustained and will sustain, and any gains, profits and advantages obtained by Audible” through the new program.

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