Some of the top publishing companies are teaming up to sue Audible, the audiobook subsidiary of Amazon, arguing that a new feature that transcribes audiobooks to text amounts to copyright infringement.
The Verge first reported on the lawsuit, which has not yet been uploaded to online legal databases. The publishers involved in the suit are Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Chronicle Books and Scholastic.
At issue is the new Captions feature, which has been controversial since it was first announced last month. It uses machine learning to transcribe audiobook recordings into written words, so users can follow along while listening.
The Verge notes that audiobooks have separate licenses from physical books. Audible is allegedly not getting the necessary licenses to reproduce written versions of books.
Audible issued the following statement on the case:
We are surprised and disappointed by this action and any implication that we have not been speaking and working with publishers about this feature, which has not yet launched. Captions was developed because we, like so many leading educators and parents, want to help kids who are not reading engage more through listening. This feature would allow such listeners to follow along with a few lines of machine-generated text as they listen to the audio performance. 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.
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 customers downloaded nearly 3 billion hours of audio in 2018, the company said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comment from Audible.