Fitter, Happier, More Productive

In the New York Times, Authors Guild president Roy Blount, Jr, makes the case against the Kindle's text to speech synthesizer, The Kindle Swindle?: "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."

Engadget's Nikay Patel interviewed Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, "Just because Amazon does something a bit clever with their ebook reader and adds technology which allows them to render text into speech doesn't mean they get to exploit it for all it's worth, without sharing with authors and publishers. In our view this is a legitimate market."

In the last few years, lawyers have been digging into musty old file cabinets to review licenses for rights licensed for old films and television shows, in order to clear them to sell the works on DVD or make available on streaming services. These original licensing agreements never imagined home video or internet streaming uses and not granted rights to those then-uninvented possibilities. Did publishers merely fail to imagine the possibilities?

Is an audiobook recording a completely different product than an e-book run through a text-to-speech synthesizer? Does a book of sheet music compete in the same marketplace with a recording of that same piece of music? What about a MIDI file that allows a synthesizer to play back a piece of music? Does that compete with a recording? With the sheet music?

Update. Right after I posted this, Amazon announced that it would offer publishers the ability to block the Kindle from reading books to the Kindle owner. Brad Stone reported on the NYT Bits Blog, Amazon Backs off Text-to-Speech Feature in Kindle. Amazon's states,

"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. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights-holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat."

Lessig comments, Caving into bullies (aka, here we go again): "We had this battle before. In 2001, Adobe released e-book technology that gave rights holders (including publishers of public domain books) the ability to control whether the Adobe e-book reader read the book aloud. The story got famous when it was shown that one of its public domain works -- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland -- was marked to forbid the book to be read aloud."

(Post title reference: Radiohead's song Fitter Happier features Macintalk on lead vocals.)

Previously: Take a Look, It's in a Book.


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