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Audible files countersuit in book publisher copyright dispute

Copyright infringement disputes in Colorado and around the country often hinge on the concept of fair use. The doctrine of fair use allows material to be used without the copyright holder’s consent when it is used for purposes including criticism, research, parody or commentary, and it is at the center of a lawsuit between the audio book seller and producer Audible and a group of book publishers including Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan Publishing.

The book publishers filed their copyright infringement lawsuit when Audible introduced a caption feature that enhances the listening experience by adding a few lines of text. The plaintiffs claim that Audible should be paying royalties because the feature crosses formats. The crux of their argument is that Audible is now distributing e-books along with its audio offerings. The plaintiffs point out in their lawsuit that a separate license is required for e-book distribution, and they are asking the court to issue an injunction that would compel Audible to withdraw the caption feature.

Audible has responded to the litigation by filing a countersuit that refers to the caption feature as quintessential fair use. The company says that its feature is designed to improve the listener’s immersion and only provides only brief lines of text. Audible maintains that its caption feature could never be considered a replacement for or alternative to printed or electronic books.

Attorneys with experience in business law may seek to avoid intellectual property lawsuits whenever possible because the cases are usually complex and can be expensive to litigate. To prevent disputes like this one, attorneys may suggest including language in licensing agreements that specifically addresses fair use exemptions. Attorneys could also recommend including a mediation or arbitration provision to avoid protracted legal battles if these issues do become contentious.

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