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Audible forced to defend the legal difference between audiobook transcripts and, uh, "books"

Photo: Bryan Bedder (Getty Images)

Today, in the exciting world of niche legal battles over publishing giant turf wars: Amazon-owned Audible is being sued by a number of major publishers over its decision to include auto-captioning services with some portions of its library of audiobooks. And honestly, we love this sort of shit, because it’s the kind of thing that initially seems like a slam-dunk great idea—the transciptions are designed to help struggling readers follow along a few words at a time, complete with the ability to pause and get a definition of any word they’re having trouble with—but then someone goes ahead and points out that we already have transcriptions of audiobooks, and that those are called, uh, “books.”

Per THR, the lawsuit comes courtesy of pretty much every big publisher in the business—Chronicle Books, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster—who are pissed that they weren’t even consulted on the decision, and who are claiming that Audible is not only distributing the text of their copyrighted materials without the rights to do so, but that it’s distributing crappy versions of it, to boot. (The transcriptions are generated with machine-based speech-to-text techniques; Audible has reportedly admitted that their tech fucks up on up to 6 percent of words.)

Audible contends that this is all being blown out of proportion, and that Audible Captions are only there to serve as a reading aid, which is why they only display a handful of words at a time. (So, yes, you could copy the text of Moby Dick down if you were really looking to steal a very boring public domain text, but it would take you a not-inconsiderable chunk of your extremely finite life to do so.) Which has not stopped the publishers from saying “Well, you’re still giving out words that we own, but not in the format that you’re allowed to distribute them in, so: Lawsuit.” The publisher point of view seems to be that, if you want to read along with an audiobook, you had damn well better buy that text, too (and then sync it up through Audible’s Immersion Reading feature, if you like).

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Christ, we love this nerdy shit.

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