Kindle's Text-to-Speech function called 'illegal' by person who doesn't understand law all that well

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mom and jen reading a story by Cindy Funk on FlickrPaul Aiken, director of the Author’s Guild, seems to think that the Kindle 2's text-to-speech function is a fancy new technology that turns all books into audio books.  Mr. Aiken, I submit, doesn't know much about technology.

"They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

Mr. Aiken, I assume, hasn't used a Mac since 1984 when Apple first integrated text-to-speech into its OS.  Nor has he apparently used a PC since Windows 95 came out.  He's also probably never met any vision-impaired people who regularly use screen readers when browsing the web.

The Kindle 2 isn't introducing some new, really super awesome text-to-speech function that brings the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman to every book you buy.  It's really the equivalent of having someone read you the book -- someone who has a speech synthesizer pressed to their neck.

Is the Author's Guild is going to start coming after anyone who reads bedtime stories to kids, now?

Source: WSJ
Hat Tip: Crunch Gear

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  • Joe Cassara Says:

    This is ridiculous verve from a group of fusty bookish hens who still call their association a "guild" this far into human history. I suppose their statement was submitted to the Wall Street Journal on parchment, hand delivered by Yohan and Pee Wee.

  • wayno Says:

    If we remove the petty swipes and ego, this could actually end up being a decent discussion.

    The one thing here that we have not talked about yet is change. Laws can adapt to evolutions of technology, but revolutionary change means we have to rethink everything.

    Think about the music industry, which has gone from selling 16 song CDs for $15, to DRM free subscription services that have 2 million songs for 15 per month. Think about newspapers and magazines, which vigorously protected content to sell subscriptions, now publishing to the web with the hope that we'll click on that Victoria Secret add. Universities are investing in servers instead of dorms. Disney is providing the capability to transfer their DVDs to any video enabled portable device.

    The simple fact is, the content will permeate. So the talk should be about how the laws and practices will change to suite. Maybe text to speech rights will be sold separately. Maybe all e-book contracts will have text to speech rights embedded in the pricing going forward. Maybe thats just the price of progress, and authors will accept the text to speech capability in e-books to sell a few million more copies. Maybe the Morgan Freeman read version can be downloaded on the same purchase, so for a couple bucks extra we cane be saved the torture of having to listen to Wall-E for two hours.

    Tomorrow will decide.

  • Matt M Says:

    Anthony, (really don't have anything against you, but I can't resist...) of course you see a persuasive argument on both sides of the matter. Didn't you self-identify as a lawyer? Isn't that half of your job description? Let's not forget that opinions are like a-holes, everybody has one. What they don't tell you is that lawyers have two; one on each side (you use the second one to kiss your kids). ;-)

    Now that I've given you guys ad hominem to discredit me...wouldn't want to smash anyone's feelings with a complete rebuttal.

    The blogger/author is right about his supporting technology facts. Not that I'm trying to sound hostile here, but it's hard to make this point to people who have touted their authority when they have at the same time acknowledged they are no subject matter expert. Do your friggin' homework before criticizing someone who has clearly done theirs!! Ok, so no, it wasn't explained thoroughly for the layman the first, second, or third time through. But, what site are you on? LAPTOPMAG for pete's sake. Some articles might be a bit over your head unless you've paid attention to your pc over the years you've enjoyed point and click trickery. Maybe this once since we're discussing legal matters there's a bit of wiggle room, but let's be civil.

    <i>Anthony wrote: The Author’s Guild hasn’t flipped out about text-to-speech on computers because despite that technology existing there was no real practical ability for people to be creating ad-hoc audiobooks with that technology–and there still isn’t.</i>

    Wrong. Actually, Windows has come standard with a little utility called Sound Recorder since the days of Windows 3.1 (1992) and even a slightly handy computer user can get this app to record Text-To-Speech (TTS) output. If they can't, there have been, and still are, plenty of third-party apps to do the trick easier. This kind of unauthorized reproduction, when combined with distribution, would certainly infringe on an author's audio right (Distribution is the key, ignoring the possibility of fair use). And this has been a technological cake-walk since eBooks first started finding their way onto the net's virtual bookshelves.

    So, while the home pc is a threat to unauthorised redistribution of copyrighted works, the kindle is not - it possesses no capacity to record - anything. And by transitive properties: No recording = no distribution of recording = no infringement.

    You also wrote: <i>It’s like buying Jurassic Park the novel and getting the DVD for free.</i>

    Unless you meant, "it's like buying the book and grabbing some random person off the street to act it out in your living room for free," you are clearly waving a red herring (i.e., you can't compare apples and oranges). And if that is what you meant, then it is fair use as long as you don't sell tickets to the performance. I do think highly of Amazon, but I doubt they can reconstruct any part of a movie from a book - but it is a good idea. Maybe I should patent it...

    So, yes a court might hear these arguments in greater detail, but my cat could adequately defend Amazon. Let's assume for a minute that Amazon has enough cash to hire real lawyers...

  • K. T. Bradford Says:

    You may listen to whomever you like, Bobby. But Anthony did say that he isn't a copyright lawyer and, though he's obviously familiar with the basics of a fiction contract, he did not indicate that he's ever seen one. Luckily, I have!

    It makes no difference, in the end, whether you believe me or not. After all, you're not affected by this as you're not an author and don't have a book with audio rights to sell. The Author's Guild may or may not choose to pursue this, but just because they believe that text-to-speech poses a challenge doesn't make it true. Entities like the Author's Guild have a long history of reacting to new technologies negatively without true cause for alarm, and this may end up being another one of those times.

    We'll see how this plays out, but I remain unconvinced by your opinion so far. If you remain unconvinced by mine, then at least we agree on something :)

  • Bobby Fisher Says:

    I'm sorry I will take the lawyers opinion over a fiction writers.
    This was the point I was trying to make but I will let the Guild aka Crazies explain it:

    In a memo sent to members Thursday, the guild says the Kindle 2's "Read to Me" feature "presents a significant challenge to the publishing industry."

    The Kindle can read text in a somewhat stilted electronic voice. But the Authors Guild says the quality figures to "improve rapidly." And the guild worries that could undermine the market for audio books.

  • K. T. Bradford Says:

    <em>Now, as far as I know, there isn’t a way (on a massive scale) to buy “books” online to be downloaded straight to your computer, the way that Kindle can.</em>

    Actually, Anthony, you can. eBooks weren't invented for the Kindle, Sony eReader, or other handheld devices. You can download from sites like Fictionwise (and others) and read on any device that has the reader format you download in, and software does and has always existed for PCs. So the Kindle isn't different. As long as there have been ebooks you could read them on your computer and, depending on the format, setup, etc, allow text-to-speech to read it to you.

    <em>Here, as a consumer, you are buying the right for the textural consumption of the book… but with the kindle text-to-speech, you are actually using two bundles of rights for the price of one.</em>

    Again, not quite true. I have a bit of experience with this, being a fiction writer myself, but am not an expert. Still, audio rights have always been, as far as I have been able to discern from contracts, tied not just to "the reading aloud of this work" but to a recording, usually of a certain type, and with a certain distribution. Which is why, if an author gives a public reading, she has not then squandered her audio rights. Even if she follows you around all day and reads an entire book to you, she has not squandered those rights. Also, Kindle's text-to-speech does not make recordings.

  • Anthony Says:

    I have to agree with Bobby Fisher's criticism... The headline reads, "Kindle's Text-to-Speech... by person who doesn't understand law all that well." Yet there is no actual legal analysis in the blog commentary.

    As a bankruptcy attorney that enjoys copyright issues on the side, I don't think the issue is as clear cut as you would present it, and I think it's safe to say that a persuasive argument can be made on both sides to a judge that may hear a case like this.

    First, just because a practice (like computer text-to-audio) has been happening for a while without object doesn't necessarily mean it's not infringing.

    Second, I would argue that your comparison with laptops and computers isn't accurate. For argument's sake, let's take the extreme and say computers can duplicate human voices perfectly. Now, as far as I know, there isn't a way (on a massive scale) to buy "books" online to be downloaded straight to your computer, the way that Kindle can. The Author's Guild hasn't flipped out about text-to-speech on computers because despite that technology existing there was no real practical ability for people to be creating ad-hoc audiobooks with that technology--and there still isn't. However, Kindle is different. It has a sizable library that is growing so it actually directly implicates books (whereas your computer doesn't).

    Authors writing books have a bundle of rights attached to their book that they sell or license for profit in a piecemeal fashion. One is the printing right. There's the movie rights. Another is the audiobook right. For each right or license, someone pays for their grant to use it from the author. In the same way, as a consumer, we pay for each derivative form of that work -- we buy the book and then pay separately for the movie.

    Here, as a consumer, you are buying the right for the textural consumption of the book... but with the kindle text-to-speech, you are actually using two bundles of rights for the price of one. It's like buying Jurassic Park the novel and getting the DVD for free. I don't see why anyone would by the audiobook rights from an author if this were the case.

    Sometimes with the growth of technology we must accept that certain industries, rights, or what not will naturally cease to exist, and with the advent of accurate text-to-speech, it may be that the audiobook industry will cease, so I accept that it is fair to disagree with the policy of calling text-to-speech infringement. However, I would caution people from belittling the issue without thoroughly exploring the other side.

  • Bobby Fisher Says:

    Let me rephrase: What is your analysis of the lawsuit, lets see, hmmm, this guy is stupid. &lt;-- Crazy is probably better description than stupid my bad.
    No I have no facts just opinion but I see no facts in your post either so I cower to your journalistic greatness.My sincere apologies for making a comment to your awesome fact filled blog post.

  • K. T. Bradford Says:

    Bobby, I think what you're missing here is that the audio rights that Mr. Aiken is so freaked out about aren't threatened by or even relate to the act of a person or machine reading a book or other printed work out loud. If it did then anyone who reads out loud is violating copyright, including many parents at bedtime, and we know that this is obviously not true.

    An audio book is more than just reading out loud. One big difference is that it's tied to recordings. No one is going to record a Kindle reading a book and try to sell it. And, as I mentioned before, audio books are about the experience of having a professional read a book or a story. A professional human being.

    The quality of text-to-speech may improve, and it may eventually be as awesome as Morgan Freeman reading a book to you. That still doesn't make it legally an audio book or threatening to audio books.

    Additionally, a 1984 Macintosh is not portable, but laptops and netbooks are. And text-to-speech exists on these devices, yet no one has jumped up to say "Oh no! It's just like an audio book!"

    As far as I know, vision-impaired people don't buy ereaders much, but that's not the point. The point is that the technology for text-to-speech has existed and is in wide use, and the Kindle changes none of that. So the alarm and fits of the vapors is completely unnecessary and decades late, really.

    Lastly, I have given you no indication that I'm upset with you nor anywhere called you stupid. What I did was ask that you back up your opinion with facts. The invitation still stands.

  • Bobby Fisher Says:

    Because it is the concept of reading the book to you. Kindle is portable your 1984 mac is not. I think they are looking to protect the future of loosing money. The quality of txt to speech will improve over time especially if more portable devices will have this technology built into it.

    How many vision impaired people buy a ereaders???

    Don't get upset with me because you lack any analysis or can not accept your readers opinions. What is your analysis lets see, hmmm this guy is stupid. Brilliant!

  • K. T. Bradford Says:

    Bobby, please explain to me how text-to-speech threatens audio books.

    And again, let me remind you that this function has been available on commercial computers for decades now and, surprise, eBooks can be read on those computers.

    Let me also remind you that people buy audio books for many reasons, NOT just because they want a book read to them. They want a book read to them by someone who knows how to read, or they really enjoy the person doing the reading. And before you say "But blind people will be able to..." let me stop you and point out that audio books have been available for free to the vision-impaired for quite some time.

    So please explain where the threat comes from?

  • Michael Says:

    Thanks for clearing that up a little. It clearly takes more than a text-to-speech feature for an audio book.

  • Bobby Fisher Says:

    You failed to see the obvious laptop. This technology in the new Kindle threatens the world of audio books so I could see why they would do what ever to stop them from having this built in.

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