The burgeoning brouhaha over the new Kindle’s ability to read text aloud opens up some cool questions and reveals some interesting underlying misconceptions from various parties.
The story so far for those who missed it: Amazon this week re-Kindled its ebook reader and announced some new features including more storage capacity, better screen contrast, round keys and a text-to-speech feature.
It’s this last ‘new’ feature that’s causing all the grief (mind you – round keys! Seriously? That’s outrageous)
Some small publishers are concerned about how it impacts on rights issues and what that may mean for author payments. But the biggest noise is being made by the Authors Guild, which is insisting the text-to-speech functions not just infringes audio rights but is essentially the same thing.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken said: “They don’t have the right to read a book out loud. That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”
Text-to-speech is a transient form – not a recording. It’s no more a breach of an author’s copyright than reading a work aloud to yourself is. It is not derivative unless someone broadcasts the audio or records it (I’ll save format shifting arguments for another time).
And the technology already exists. Windows will do it for you already with many ebooks and there’s plenty of places on the web that will as well. If you’re keen to hear Mr Aiken’s quote in all its auditory glory, check it out here.
I remember convincing my three-year-old nephew once that there was a little man living in my speakers because he used to talk to him after I typed some text into my computer. That would have been in about 1992. This ain’t nothing new folks.
I’ve often tried to win debates by arguing a more outlandish case and have someone argue me back towards my desired (and more reasonable) point. But The Authors Guild has a long way to go given they first have to be argued from wrong to silly before they can meaningfully engage.
As a reader, I think it’s a great idea. It means I can put my book down for a few minutes and stay with the story the story.
As an author, I think it’s a great idea. it means my readers can put the book down for a few minutes and stay with the story.
Wouldn’t this be a great tool to add to WordPress or LJ?
One defence many supporters are offering that doesn’t fly with me is that it shouldn’t matter anyway because the quality of the computerised reading voice is so poor it doesn’t come close to replicating the experience of a trained voice actor read an audio book. The quality of the computerised voice is poor. But it won’t be forever. Check out the audio of the Aiken quote that I had the website create for me. It’s not Orson Welles or Morgan Freeman but it’s actually not too bad. And it will get better, much better, over time.
To me though, it’s just another example of why authors should work hard to understand themselves and their work as a platform. It can be confusing stuff but the publishing world is changing and authors need to engage with this stuff any more.
On a final note turns out science fiction author Fred Pohl is on a Guild advisory council. Fred’s a smart guy. Maybe he could knock their heads together a bit. You out there, Fred?