Audible suspends the inclusion of some US publishers’ work in 'Captions' feature

2 September 2019

Audible has agreed to exclude works owned or licensed by some US publishers from its new 'Captions' feature while copyright issues are resolved.

Audible recently announced plans to roll out a new feature which would enable customers to read along to their audiobooks. They misleadingly call this feature 'Captions' although it in fact uses computer-generated text from the audio recording rather than using the original text. This was due to launch in September in the US.

Objections were instantly raised by groups representing publishers and authors about the legality of this move – including from our own Chief Executive Nicola Solomon on BBC Radio 4's Front Row. Our view is that this represents a clear infringement of copyright.

The Association of American Publishers and a group of individual US publishers filed a lawsuit calling for a judge to stop Audible from including their works in the programme launch without their permission. Audible agreed to exclude works from the named publishers until a judge rules on their calls for a preliminary injunction. The hearing is currently set for 25 September.

Audible’s current proposals apply only to the US and we are not yet aware of any plans to introduce such a feature in the UK. If any members have concerns about the 'Captions' feature being used on any of their books, please do contact us. Self-published authors, those published by smaller publishers or those not involved in the lawsuit should check carefully to ensure that Audible doesn’t apply the feature to their work and should carefully check any contracts from Audible to ensure that they do not unwittingly sign over the right to include this feature.

Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, said:

“This is a welcome announcement, although we have clearly not heard the last of Audible’s plans to introduce its ‘Captions’ feature and we will be keeping a close eye on developments in the American courts.

“We remain concerned about the possibility of this extending to the UK as it would be a clear infringement of our copyright law. We are also concerned that Audible may try to include the right to employ this feature in future contracts. This would dilute authors’ valuable publishing rights and may lead to them unwittingly breaching their text publishing contracts or being unable to enter into new text licences for their work. We are not aware of any plans so far, but we will remain vigilant.

“If any SoA members who are published in the US have concerns about their work being used in this way by Audible, please do contact us. As always, send us any contracts for vetting before you sign.”