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Authors’ Guild vs Kindle: The Debate

  • March 3, 2009
  • Maya
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A look at the debate that revolved around Kindle’s text-to-speech capability.
A previous post titled “Gagging Your Books” had details on how :

… the always-retrograde Authors’ Guild believes that Amazon is violating copyright law by shipping a device that can read text-files aloud using text-to-speech, because “that’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.” (Via boingboing)

In an article titled “The Kindle Swindle?“, Roy Blount, Jr., president of the Authors Guild wrote:

True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.

What the guild is asserting is that authors have a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s version of books.

Michael Masnick from techdirt says:

This is the “but the old way of doing business made us so much money, so any innovation must be illegal” argument. You know what else was a big market at one time? Horse & buggies. And Gramophones. And 8-tracks. But technology made them all obsolete at some point or another, and that wasn’t illegal. You don’t get to cling to an old business model just because it made you lots of money. Sometimes new technologies come along, and they provide a better experience for people, and the market changes. Already it’s a stretch to say that a TTS read-aloud of a book really “competes” with an audio book, but even if it did one day, that doesn’t necessarily make it illegal just because Blount and the Authors Guild wishes it were so.

Cory Doctrow from boingboing says:

I think there’s plenty not to like about the Kindle — the DRM, the proprietary file format, both imposed on authors and publishers even if they don’t want it — and about Amazon’s real audiobook section, Audible (the DRM — again, imposed on authors and publishers even if they’d prefer not to use it). But if there’s one thing Amazon has demonstrated, it’s that it plans on selling several bazillion metric tons of audiobooks. They control something like 90 percent of the market. To accuse them of setting out to destroy it just doesn’t pass the giggle-test.

And Wil Wheaton did this:

But what if we’re all wrong? As an author, performer, and consumer of audiobooks, what does this mean for me?To find out, I picked a short passage from Sunken Treasure and read it. Then, I took the identical passage, and let my computer read it. I recorded the whole thing and put together something I call “Wil Wheaton versus Text 2 Speech” so you can hear for yourself.
Download Wil_wheaton_vs_text_2_speech

But finally, “Amazon decides Kindle speech isn’t worth copyright fight”

Following an extended outcry from some in the publishing business, however, Amazon has backed down and will allow publishers to retain control over whether to expose their texts to this capability. Amazon also seems to feel confident that it’s in the clear, legally. Its statement announcing the changes starts off pretty unambiguously: “Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given.

Image Source: dalydose

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