Kindle Swindle, Schmindle

I didn’t pay much attention to the release of the Kindle 2 until I got wind that many people—especially the Author’s Guild—are up in arms over its Text to Speech capability. Words are being slung into the aether, words like “derivative works” and “royalties.” And then I read Roy Blount, Jr.‘s NYT op-ed piece, “Kindle Swindle”, and boy howdy, that thing just needs to be torn into.

First of all, some background information for those of you who aren’t familiar with the legalese: the right that’s at dispute is the exclusive right, granted by Section 106(2) of the U.S. Copyright Act, of an author to “prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work.” But what does derivative work mean? To the Section 101-mobile, Robin! Because that’s where all the definitions are for the Act. It says, in sum:

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.

The way I read the statute, there are two bars, one more stringent than the other, for derivative works. The lower bar merely requires recasting, transformation or adaptation—language that’s pretty ambiguous, and the definitions over which we can bitchfight all day. The higher bar applies even to works that transform the original so much that they in themselves qualify as “original work[s] of authorship”—Congress seemed to be trying to catch a wide variety of things in this net, so that people who attempt to claim both major and minor transformative uses are caught.

I’d argue that the Kindle fails on both counts. Fails pretty spectacularly, even, and not just because of statutory language, but because there’s really no principled way to separate the kind of reading aloud for private purposes that the Author’s Guild says is OK vs. what it says is actionable. The Author’s Guild says “Because it’s a machine, stupid!” and I say “So the fuck what?” My argument (which I’ll expand on in just a bit) is that this is a nifty new tool that makes books more usable, and it’s something to be embraced. The sky isn’t going to fall. It’s like the VCR all over again.

More legal analysis follows. And I do mean more. Also more profanity.

So what are the standards of what qualifies for derivative works? The standards, my friends, are kind of a clusterfuck, not unlike the Copyright Act is in general (author’s life plus 70, Congress? And the term extensions applied retroactively? REALLY? What the hell?). There’s a pretty clear circuit split over how much change you need to wreak on something to sufficiently “recast, transform or adapt” it so that it falls under the derivative works umbrella, as opposed to making a direct copy, or redistributing a copy you’ve already bought.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers California, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Washington and Oregon) ruled in Mirage Editions, Inc. v. Albuquerque A.R.T. Co. that some schmuck cutting Nagel’s artwork out of the pages of art books, gluing ‘em on tile and selling them individually was an infringement of the derivative works right. The court isn’t entirely clear on why exactly this is enough to qualify as a derivative work; it concludes that “appellant has certainly recast or transformed the individual images by incorporating them into its tile-preparing process.” Additionally, it rules that the first sale doctrine doesn’t apply, because Section 109, which covers first sale, explicitly addresses the author’s distribution right and ONLY the distribution right, not the derivative works right. The court, again in rather conclusory terms, dismisses the first sale concern by saying “[T]he right to transfer applies only to the particular copy of the book which appellant has purchased and nothing else.”

Which, by the way, what? It makes sense, sort of, but where does the line lie with that? What happens when I buy a buncha Jen Lobo prints and stick them in tacky frames, and then sell them as-is a few years later at a garage sale. Derivative work? What about the person who buys those prints from me, and decides to chuck the frames because the light reflecting off the fake gold leaf is kind of blinding, but she can’t afford new frames and just glues the prints to some stiff posterboard before mounting them on the walls. Derivative work then? I think the Ninth Circuit, if Mirage Editions is to be binding precedent, would have to rule “yes” in the latter, but almost definitely “no” in the former, because, if for no other reason, every person who’s ever custom-framed artwork would suddenly become an infringer; notice how Section 106 doesn’t even require a sale of a work—it just requires that the work be recast, transformed or adapted.

The standard, as announced by the Ninth Circuit, is unworkable, especially given the property rights regime in America, where there’s a really strong sense of personal property—once you buy the tangible embodiment of something, you can do whatever the hell you want with it, including reselling it.

(This case, by the way, is the target of much scathing criticism. Many legal scholars hate it. Hates it, preciousss.)

And what do you know, in 1997, another case pops up involving almost exactly the same facts (the artist is Annie Lee, and instead of pages cut out of a book, it’s postcards and lithographs). It even has the same defendant, and the case is brought in the Seventh Circuit (which covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin). The judge (it’s an Easterbrook opinion, to all you legal wonks out there, so you can guess how this case is going to come out) says, though not quite in these words “What the hell kind of moral rights bullshit are you trying to pull here?” and rules that it’s not enough of a transformation to infringe. And, God help me, I agree with Easterbrook. (This is almost as traumatic as the first time I found myself agreeing with Scalia.)

Lee’s works were not “recast” or “adapted”. “Transformed” comes closer and gives the ninth circuit some purchase for its view that the permanence of the bond between art and base matters. Yet the copyrighted note cards and lithographs were not “transformed” in the slightest. The art was bonded to a slab of ceramic, but it . . . still depicts exactly what it depicted when it left Lee’s studio. [. . .] No one believes that a museum violates § 106(2) every time it changes the frame of a painting that is still under copyright, although the choice of frame or glazing affects the impression the art conveys, and many artists specify frames (or pedestals for sculptures) in detail. Munoz and Mirage Editions acknowledge that framing and other traditional means of mounting and displaying art do not infringe authors’ exclusive right to make derivative works. Nonetheless, the ninth circuit held, what A.R.T. does creates a derivative work because the epoxy resin bonds the art to the tile. [. . .] If Lee (and the ninth circuit) are right about what counts as a derivative work, then the United States has established through the back door an extraordinarily broad version of authors’ moral rights, under which artists may block any modification of their works of which they disapprove. . . . Until recently it was accepted wisdom that the United States did not enforce any claim of moral rights; even bowdlerization of a work was permitted unless the modifications produced a new work so different that it infringed the exclusive right under § 106(2).

So fine—under Ninth Circuit standards, the “transformation” wrought by the Text to Speech feature on the Kindle might qualify as enough of a change to create a “derivative work,” but the Seventh Circuit standards are different, and probably wouldn’t see Text to Speech as transformative. But that’s not the last word. In Mirage and Annie Lee, the works were fixed and resold, and let’s be frank here: it’s that commercial exploitation that makes a difference, because I think even the Mirage court would have hesitated to rule that my one-time art-print-glued-to-posterboard example a derivative work. But reselling aspects aside, what happens when the changes are more transitory and used completely in private? Because the Text to Speech function reads the book on the fly, and it’s aimed at private users. Nobody is seriously suggesting that the Kindle is going to encourage mass infringement by allowing people to, say, record Nora Roberts’ latest opus and then sell them on the Kindle Crappy Ad Hoc Audiobook Black Market. (Blount, bless his soul, damns with faint praise in “Kindle Swindle” by saying that the speech synthesizer in the Kindle is “quite listenable.”)

The Ninth Circuit had something to say about that, too. For all you nerds out there, it’s a case about the Game Genie. That’s right, Nintendo tried to sue the Game Genie for preparing unauthorized derivative works. The Court is very pointed about how derivative works don’t require fixation (which makes sense, when you think about it—if I publicly perform my one-woman solo extemporaneous re-enactment of Lord of Scoundrels, I’d still be infringing on Loretta Chase’s derivative works right, even if nothing was ever fixed in permanent form; that would be a public performance, though, and not a private use). However, the court ultimately acknowledges that “[t]he Game Genie is useless by itself, it can only enhance, and cannot duplicate or recaste [sic], a Nintendo game’s output. It does not contain or produce a Nintendo game’s output in some concrete or permanent form, nor does it supplant demand for Nintendo game cartridges,” and analogizes it to a spell-checker. Like the Game Genie, the Kindle’s Text to Speech function doesn’t actually change or transform a book, it merely provides an enhancement. At the very most, it creates a duplication.

Aha, so duplication—what if it’s an infringement of the reproduction right? That’s not going to fly, either—because the definition of “copies” does have a fixation requirement.

So now all that legal malarkey is done with, I’m finally addressing the whole “machines reading out loud not OK, people reading out loud OK” distinction that the Author’s Guild has tried to make over and over again. My question is: what’s the difference? What makes the machine reading a derivative work, but not the human reading? Blount doesn’t make any kind of principled distinction. He says:

For the record: no, the Authors Guild does not expect royalties from anybody doing non-commercial performances of “Goodnight Moon.” If parents want to send their children off to bed with the voice of Kindle 2, however, it’s another matter.

So the Kindle has a built-in ability to read aloud, and that’s not kosher because Amazon hasn’t paid authors for the audio rights? You know, I have that built-in ability, too. So does almost everybody I know. It’s called literacy and a functional larynx.

But let’s assume for the moment that there is some sort of reasonable distinction between reading aloud in private as performed by a speech synthesizer vs. reading aloud in private as performed by a human. If Kindle’s speech synthesizer is covered, are ALL speech synthesizers covered? What happens if Stephen Hawking wants to read something out loud to his family? What about speech synthesizers for the blind? What sorts of messy exceptions would we need to carve out?

And here’s what really gets to me: this feature makes books more useful. It actually adds value to the books, and adding value to your books tends to, oh, I don’t know, SELL MORE BOOKS because hey, all of a sudden, your readers can listen to books in the car or while they’re doing dishes, even those books that don’t have an official audiobook edition out (and the vast, vast majority of books don’t), which means they’re going through your books even faster. Negotiating audio rights individually for the Kindle like the Author’s Guild wants to do is all well and good, but sweet mother of Pete, can you imagine the transaction costs of that? And guess who’s going to ultimately pay for it? Sure as shit not Amazon.

Another sticking point seems to be the distinction between “private use” and “commercial use.” And yeah, the Kindle is a commercial product, whereas parents reading out loud to their children constitutes a completely private act. But it’s a commercial product for private use. As long as somebody isn’t podcasting the Kindle reading Born in Ice, or selling a Kindle recording on the Kindle Crappy Ad Hoc Audiobook Black Market, I don’t see a problem. Yes, authors have a chance for a bigger slice of the pie by negotiating for audio rights, because all of a sudden you can negotiate with a discrete entity instead of every damn person who wants to read a book out loud, but is it worth it, especially since it’s ultimately going to ding the readers?

Blount also brings up the specter of improved technology. Oh no, says he, IBM is coming up with incredibly human voices that are able to mimic human speech patterns with eerie accuracy.

You know what? He’s right. It’s getting better, and it’s getting better all the time. But the analysis doesn’t change. I genuinely don’t think there’s a difference whether it’s your mom, or a cheap tinny speech synth, or freaking HAL or GLaDOS that’s reading out loud to us.

I think I’d respect their positions a lot more if they came right out and said “Yes, we DO think that reading aloud is a derivative work, and yes, all of you are infringers, but you’re probably covered under fair use.” That, at least, would expose some of the absurdities that crop up when we attempt to use copyright to control every motherfucking use, all the goddamn time.

We have this “OH JESUS THE SKY IS FALLING” brouhaha every time a new technology comes along that might result in some people maybe infringing some kind of exclusive right under the Copyright Act. Photocopying machines, VCRs, CD burners, and now the Kindle. Some copyright owners get really het up—why? Because they want to retain control. As much of it as they can, all the time. And intellectual property doesn’t really work that way. Once you sell a book, it’s out there, in the wild, wiggling its way into our minds. We’re inspired by them, we talk about them, we write about them, and we read them out loud. It enters the public discourse. It’s yours, but not really, because parts of it are ours, too. I think we’re in danger of forgetting, especially after the insane extensions of terms and the trend towards stronger and stronger protections for content creators, that the rights embodied in copyright law are meant to secure progress in knowledge—that they should be used as incentives to create and promote progress, not to clamp down on innovation. (We have patent law for that. AH HA HA HA ZING.) Copyright owners have rights—but users and consumers have rights, too. My copyright professor thinks people nowadays tend to quickly dismiss works as infringing, because hey, there’s fair use, right? But fair use is a defense. And some uses don’t, and shouldn’t, require defenses. Reading out loud in private is one of them—whether you’re using your own larynx, or a speech synthesizer.

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General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Halle-flipping-luljah. Neil Gaiman said it best, I think, in his short post on the topic, which I will shorten even further by excerpting only one sentence:  “any authors’ societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what’s good about them with it.”

  2. 2
    MaryKate says:

    It’s CANDY! Hi Candy!

    Um, that’s all, I have nothing to add to the discussion of legal matters way over my head!

  3. 3

    Hey, I just posted about this earlier today!

    http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2009/02/26/kindle-read-a-loud/

    To sum up:  It looks a bit hypocritical to get up in arms about a technology that might obsolete an author’s rights, when you have tacitly condoned technology that has infringed on reader’s rights, especially fair use rights, for years.

    (Incidentally, I wonder whether CA9’s interpretation of the right of first sale in Mirage Editions survives the somewhat more expansive view of the doctrine of first sale espoused by the Supreme Court in Quanta v. LG Electronics this last term.  Which was a patent case, of course, but the two doctrines are based on the same common-law principles.  I wouldn’t want to have to rely on the argument before CA9, because I doubt it would be successful, but I sure as heck would make it.  And before any circuit that hadn’t ruled on the question, I would certainly jump up and down on the point.)

  4. 4
    theo says:

    I’m curious here because I really don’t know. This isn’t a comment on the ability of the Kindle to read aloud as either good or bad.

    But I want to clarify…I have an audiobook that I purchased. I was under the impression that the author of the printed book gets a percentage of the sale from the audiobook as well?

    So, if that’s the case, is that what this argument really centers over?

    And isn’t this a little silly since my desktop and laptop both have text to speech recognition and the desktop is almost 10 years old? This is nothing new. I’ve had the ability to listen to an ebook that way for several years. Nobody’s said anything about that.

    That’s why I’m wondering.

  5. 5

    Theo,

    Yes, you are completely right.  It is entirely about AG wanting to capture audio rights revenue from a printed copy of a book.  As for why nobody has said anything about it on a desktop versus the Kindle, well, the argument is even more specious on a desktop.

    The truth goes like this.  Let’s assume that the Author’s Guild is right in their claim that computers reading aloud violate a distribution right.  Not something I think, but let’s say they’re right.

    The Kindle with text-to-speech capability in and of itself cannot infringe copyright.  It is a machine.  It does not, in and of itself, infringe on copyright—anymore than a VCR does.  It just sits there.  Up and until the point when someone loads the machine with a book that is copyrighted, and then instructs the Kindle to read the book aloud, no violation of copyright occurs.

    If reading aloud is a violation, the violation of copyright occurs when the user instructs the machine to read aloud.  The user is then guilty of copyright infringement.  All you can get Amazon for at this point is vicarious copyright infringement—that is, they made a device, the point of which was to enable copyright infringement. 

    (In that sense, the Kindle looks much like a VCR—you can easily, easily use a VCR to infringe on copyright, but the machine itself does not infringe.)

    But just like the VCR, you can’t get a read-aloud machine if there are substantial noninfringing uses.  On a desktop computer, there is just no chance that anyone would say there are substantial noninfringing uses—there are too many things that can be read aloud, aside from copyrighted works.

    Even on a Kindle, there are a number of noninfringing uses.  For instance, you could read works in the public domain.  I’m not sure they’d count as substantial, not having bothered to tally them.

    But there is a reason they’re going after the Kindle instead of computers—the claim on a computer is just batshit lunatic.  For the Kindle itself, it’s just batshit.  :)

  6. 6

    Oops. Sorry about the un-closed italics.

  7. 7
    Sybil says:

    no clue what the fuck you just said

    but holy hell you are alive

    YAY

    that is all hi ;)

  8. 8
    Goblin says:

    Everything you said, Amen.

    And wow, having an e-book reader that actually reads to you would be awesome for the blind! To those of you who own Kindles, Sony readers, etc, is the interface anything a blind person could easily use?

  9. 9
    theo says:

    To those of you who own Kindles, Sony readers, etc, is the interface anything a blind person could easily use?

    You know, that’s one of the things the AG brought up the other day. What a boon for the blind, they said. How can you discriminate against them?

    I think it’s perfectly fair to let them use the text to speech thing, however, that said, when audiobooks are done for the blind, again, are the authors not getting royalties since the books are specifically made for them?

    I guess what I’m trying to work through here is why hasn’t the AG gone after everything else and why just pick on a Kindle? I don’t have one, really don’t intend to have one. I’m just not an electronic reader. If I had my druthers though, I’d take the Sony anyway since the ability to download from a variety of places, for me, far outweighs the machine reading to me.

    And thanks, Courtney, and I do understand. I suppose I was being a bit snarky to the AG with my question since really, if they want to cry foul or awesome (either way) on this one thing, why not on everything? Just seems silly to me.

    And I’m NOT saying the authors don’t deserve their royalties! I’d be shooting myself in the foot if I did. There has to be a better way though, than singling out one thing when there are so many others that can be included.

    And if anyone can make sense of what I just wrote…

    *I hate being sick*

  10. 10
    Lori says:

    Candy! (Read that like the gang at Cheers greeting Norm because that’s how it sounds in my head).

    My grasp of the legal issues is fairly limited so a different thing strikes me about this kerfuffle.  Have any of these people actually used the text-to-speech function on the Kindle?  How is the quality?  Because it it’s like other text-to-speech I’ve dealt with then no one is going to use it as a substitute for produced audio books.  Frankly, if the quality of your audio books is such that your target audience will give them up in favor of having the Kindle read to them then the device really isn’t your biggest problem. 

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve done a fair amount of recording for the visually impaired.  Pretty much all the clients have access to text-to-speech technology.  None of them want to use it for all or even most of their reading.

  11. 11

    I think it’s perfectly fair to let them use the text to speech thing, however, that said, when audiobooks are done for the blind, again, are the authors not getting royalties since the books are specifically made for them?

    Yes.  Audiobooks done specifically for the visually impaired are done without royalty payment to the author.  It’s written into the copyright statute—and not to be tooting my own horn to much here, but I posted about this on my blog, too.  :)

    http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2009/02/18/copyright-and-the-blind-reader/

    Amazon could have made the Kindle a beautifully blind-accessible device if they had extended their read-aloud feature to the menus.  They didn’t.

  12. 12

    Here’s my viewpoint on it…

    If somebody wants to plunk out the cash for a kindle, then plunk out the cash for my books, then have the kindle READ the book to them, I’m fine with it.

    It’s not like they are taking print books, making them into audiobooks and then selling/benefiting off the sale without the author getting her rightful pay.

    The book was purchased, by a reader, who wants the kindle to read it to them.  I’m not going to fight over that.  I’d rather the author’s guild do something about piracy.  If they’d dive into that fight, maybe I’d be interested.  But not because the kindle will read a book outloud.

    Maybe I have a simplisitic view.  I dunno.

  13. 13
    Lori says:

    I found a YouTube clip of the demo of the Kindle reading. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgxSR72TWrY

    Having listened to it I stand by my earlier statement.  If this is going to keep your target audience for buying your professionally produced audio books then the Kindle is not your real problem. 

    It’s good text-to-speech, but it’s a machine reading.  It’s good for short things, but I don’t think that large numbers of people are going to want to listen to a whole book read that way.  IME it’s the audio version of the “uncanny valley”.  After a while it’s just creepy & strange.  I don’t think AG is being at all realistic about that.

  14. 14
    theo says:

    Amazon could have made the Kindle a beautifully blind-accessible device if they had extended their read-aloud feature to the menus.  They didn’t.

    That coupled with the fact that books for the blind give no royalty to the author makes the blind argument the AG is tossing around rather moot then. *sigh*

    Shiloh, I don’t think your view is too simplistic. It makes sense to me. The buyer has spent the money, who cares how they reap the benefits, as long as they keep it personal to them.

    But yes, the piracy issue is one that, though another subject, to me is way more important than whether the Kindle can read to you or not. The whole argument then from them just seems silly at this point.

  15. 15
    rebyj says:

    *Waves at Candy too!!*

      You can’t share ebooks so if you get one more lil feature then hooray. I LOVE audio books and yet I can’t see enjoying text to speech for anything other than maybe hearing a pronunciation of an unfamiliar word. IF the computerized voice can even pronounce things correctly.

    Questions:  In the video link above the reading is very fast, can it be slowed down? If the authors get rights , realistically who is going to PAY for text to speech as a seperate format?  Enough people to justify a lawsuit and technical changes to the e-readers?

  16. 16
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Candy!! You’re hella sexy with all these new lawyer smerts.

  17. 17

    Posts like this prove beyond a shadow of a doubt your right to call yourself a Smart Bitch.  Very awesome.

    (Also, you earn geek points for the GLaDOS reference. ^_^)

    Copyright law, and IP more generally, is a big hobbyhorse of mine, but I’ll spare you the wandering rant I have on the subject.  On a more limited note: speaking as an author, the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2 doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  I found out recently there’s a special arrangement with the Library of Congress for them to do audio adaptations of works for the blind, without having to jump through the hoops of purchasing audio rights—but in order to make that fly, they have to use special kinds of tapes that only work on special machines, etc, etc.  (The reader for Midnight Never Come has promised to send me a CD copy for my own use—they’re allowed to do that—on the promise that I don’t distribute it.)

    So there’s already a free, non-audio-rights setup in place to assist the blind . . . but it can’t cover all novels, any more than normal audiobooks do.  That setup probably cuts into audiobook sales more than the Kindle will, since at least it’s a proper dramatic reading by a human being.  I do not feel threatened by a mechanized voice.

  18. 18
    she_reads says:

    This is a really interesting discussion, and honestly the author guild take on it chaps my hide! Being in a creative/artistic field myself I understand all too well about having to protect your materials and ideas and such, but this is just crazy.

    I’m one of those on the fence about getting a kindle, and knowing I could ‘play’ my book to listen while I do some housekeeping or something then switch back to reading at my leisure would be a HUGE selling point to me. I also know if I had one I’d buy more books, and that = more sales for authors and publishers.

    Oh, but giving me more reason to spend more on books is a bad thing, right? (rolling eyes at A.G. here)

  19. 19
    angelwings says:

    I agree with Laura…Halle-flipping-lujah!  That was good!

  20. 20
    Lori says:

    @rebyj

    In the video link above the reading is very fast, can it be slowed down?

    All the text-to-speech I’ve dealt with has had variable speed.  It’s a critical feature for the blind.  I assume that the Kindle is the same, although I don’t have one so I may be wrong.  IME changing the reading speed also changes some of the tonal quality so getting much faster or slower makes it sound even weirder. 

    That’s a problem with some human speech, but not all.  I’ve been told that my voice “scales” well.  Something about my accent & pitch allows it to remain understandable at a wide range of speeds.  My observation is that a lot of people are understandable when you slow them down, but not when you speed them up.

  21. 21
    rebyj says:

    Thanks Lori. If tts variable speed is available on other electronics I’m sure it probably is on the Kindle too.

  22. 22
    Cee says:

    I miss when this site actually talked about romance novels.

  23. 23
    Lori says:

    @rebyj

    Thanks Lori. If tts variable speed is available on other electronics I’m sure it probably is on the Kindle too.

    This isn’t necessarily true.  Pretty much all my experience with text-to-speech is with equipment for the visually impaired.  As Marie Brennen noted above, the specialized equipment has special features because of the copyright issue.  I don’t know if the variable speed is part of that.  Someone who actually has a Kindle would need to weigh in.

  24. 24
    DS says:

    Good round up on case law. 

    I’m disappointed in Roy Blount, Jr.‘s op ed piece, but not enough to deny myself the pleasure of listening to him read his books aloud.  I have a Kindle 2 and (as I said elsewhere) the text to voice is ok for nonfiction—sucks for fiction.  Plus things like lists (without punctuation to separate the items) just all run together in a weird way.  It is possible to change the speed—I haven’t tried.  But I can promise that the text to speech function is not one I will be using much. 

    I wonder how much the AG things the right to turn text into crappy speech is worth?

  25. 25
    Teresa says:

    Good analysis. This is a complicated legal issue and I’m not honestly sure where I come out. I do think the conversation is worth having and I appreciate the Author’s Guild’s diligence.

    In my lifetime, author’s have seen how technology can drastically change our rights. Before e-books were in common use, authors did not foresee a problem with the concept of “in print”. Let’s face it, publishers tried to take advantage of that changing technology by essentially keeping books “in print” forever and not allowing rights to revert to authors.

    That experience may explain why the Author’s Guild takes a conservative, rights-preserving stance on any new technology. Sure, current text-to-speech technology is not going to replace an audiobook experience, but that will change. Paying some token fee (or even no fee) for the audiobook rights now, when purchasing books for Kindle, will preserve the concept of text-to-speech as a distinct right in future when Audiobooks might easily be replaced by text to speech technology.

    When that day comes, of course, it will be the performers who will be up in arms about losing their jobs to machines. But that is a topic for another day.

  26. 26
    SAS says:

    As the mom of a severely dyslexic child I’ve run into this sort of crap before.  It pisses me off that Amazon might be forced to remove the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2 because the publishing industry is seeing a “threat” where none exists.  My child gets books on tape/CD through two organizations – one national and one run by our state department of education.  The books are recorded in the organization’s studios by volunteer readers.  Both organizations require special equipment in order to play the tapes/CDs.  Part of the reason for that is that they use special long format tapes that require a special player, but part of the reason is to keep the publishing companies from going into copyright histrionics.  The ironic thing is that my child asks me to purchase the actual “real” audio books on CD (the ones anyone can purchase at the book store) of the books he wants to read for pleasure.  While I appreciate the organizations and love the volunteers to bits they aren’t professional voice actors like the ones who record the “real” CDs for the publishing companies and you can hear it.  While they are fine for textbooks listening to them read some of the fiction books can be quite tiring and not very interesting (imagine your Grandmother reading some of the saucy passages in a romance novel to you!).  I cannot imagine anyone trying to tape and sell the “Stephen Hawking” like voice of the Kindle, but I really cannot imagine anyone actually purchasing such a recording!  On the other hand I can imagine the electronic voice feature being a wonderful thing for people in the blind and dyslexic community especially those on the go.  It does take a couple of weeks for the books on tape/CD to arrive from the volunteer organizations (if they have the title available) and then you have to haul along the special tape player/CD player to listen to them.  So I think there is a case to be made that the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2 is actually an accommodation for the special needs community!

  27. 27

    I have my Kindle 2 right in front of me, and yes, you can adjust the speed of the text-to-speech. You can also change it from male to female.

    We just recently had this very same discussion on one of the RWA author loops, and the consensus seemed to be pretty much what it’s looking like here.

    As for me, I’m with Shiloh: spend money and effort on piracy, thankyouverymuch, Authors Guild.

    Not on this robotic speech-to-text capability that really only comes into play when someone’s already bought my book and I’m already going to get royalties for it—and because it’s an ebook, can’t even loan it out to someone else….

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    rebyj says:

    Thanks for the info on the tts features Colleen!

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    Tae says:

    LK Curtis> I was going to make the same post from Gaiman.

    personally I can’t imagine wanting to listen to a text-to-speech conversion of any fictional works.  Audio books vs. text-to-speech, no contest, they’re really not the same thing at all.

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    Paying some token fee (or even no fee) for the audiobook rights now, when purchasing books for Kindle, will preserve the concept of text-to-speech as a distinct right in future when Audiobooks might easily be replaced by text to speech technology.

    Well, then maybe they should integrate audiobook/performance rights royalties into every Dr. Suess book in print, because you can be damn sure it’s going to be read aloud. Lots. Maybe they should go after all those evil libraries that do “storytime” on Monday afternoons for local kids.

    Dude. I see no difference between having a person sitting next to me reading aloud, and having my Kindle or computer do it. I’ve already spent my money on the book—and if it’s an ebook, I can’t share or sell or give it away, so the author and publisher are already benefiting in other ways from the technology. Why the fuck aren’t the AG focussing on something important—like maybe educating their authors that a 6% royalty on an ebook is the equivalent of being bent over a desk and cornholed by your publisher?

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