Sunday, February 15, 2009

Can your Kindle read to you?

The new Kindle apparently can "read out loud"—that is speech-synthesize—its books. Paul Aiken, director of the Author's Guild, told the Wall Street Journal they can't do that:
"They don’t have the right to read a book out loud. ... That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."
Renowned (and Newbery) author Neil Gaiman begs to differ:
"When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one's going to confuse it with an audiobook."
My opinion. Gaiman is right on the way it should work. The Kindle, with its DRM model, undermines what Gaiman got from "buying" a physical book, but it's certainly strange to imagine people can own a piece of text free and clear, but not be allowed to run a program that reads it aloud.

On the legal grounds, however, I fear Aiken might be right. As a rule authors grant publishers highly specific rights. These limits generally include countries, copies, covers, formats and timeframes. That's one reason eBooks took so long to take off—a million contracts needed to fly here and there before publishers could sell their books in the new format.

Anticipating future media is hard. My favorite passage in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound (okay, the only passage I remember from that deeply weird work*), predicts a world of freedom in which
[L]ovely apparitions...
Shall visit us the progeny immortal
Of Painting, Sculpture, and rapt Poesy,
And arts, though unimagined, yet to be.
In the real world, I fear, "arts, though unimagined, yet to be," require a contract addendum.

*The passage made it into the LibraryThing terms of use. I love my job.

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Blogger Alexander Gieg said...

If one's in a country other than USA and willing to purchase ebooks in English, this contractual craziness gets in the way in an even worse way. I use to purchase ebooks from sites such as Fictionwise, and recently a few publishers started limiting titles by geographic region. As a result, I, being in Brazil, am forbidden from purchasing them. The funny thing, however, is that I can purchase the printed version from Amazon or other on-line bookstore without any problem, provided I'm willing to pay for the shipping and higher prices of printed.

The ebook stores say this is because of contractual obligations the publishers have to only sell to a specific region, so they don't want to get sued by authors by making titles available for global consumption in ebook format.

Now, wile I think this is an accurate description of the publishers reasoning, it is still nonsense, and not because digital files should be global in principle, but because the publishers customers aren't we, the readers, but the stores. In other words, if a publishers itself is only allowed to sell to, say, USA, it can only sell to USA stores, be them physical or virtual. From the moment an USA store "stocked" the ebook however, the publishers' responsibility ends. What means this new drive to limit e-stores in whom they can sell to is utter nonsense.

I wonder how much time it'll take for common sense to prevail in all of this. Copyright law is so outdated in the Internet age it isn't even fun...

2/15/2009 4:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in seeing how this applies to definitely-legit speech synthesizing software; I'm sure there are eBooks that can be purchased onto a proper computer (rather than the Kindle with its seriously crippled-outside-the-US distribution system), and I'd imagine the software used by the blind would be able to read these as well as web pages on the Internet. Is this, too, an infringement?

2/15/2009 6:59 AM  
Anonymous BTRIPP said...

And yet all those folks over in Early Reviewers think that LT is being SO MEAN TO THEM by not letting them get free copies of books being offered by the U.S. publishers! Heck, there's probably a bunch of 'em that think you're a "hater" for not posting this in several dozen languages.

2/15/2009 8:38 AM  
Blogger Amanda (the librarian) said...

Tim, it's Newbery, not Newberry.

2/15/2009 9:07 AM  
Blogger Blue Tyson said...

The Authors Guild are arseclowns, clearly, given recent past history. We already know publishers as a group are clueless, here.

Are they going to sue each other for reading books to their kids, too? Or their mums and dads, for reading to them? :)

Impact this would have on sale of audiobooks = zilch, as there are free text readers galore out there already.

Alexander, I agree, it is almost like they have a deal with airlines or something or postal companies who like to get large amounts of single book shipping.

Such brilliant retailing plans:

'Hi, I'd like to buy your book'
'Nope, not going to sell it to you'
Profit! (Not)

Quite hilarious.

Didn't work too well for music and tv and movies, so if electronic books get more popular they are just encouraging those activities they don't like.

2/15/2009 9:19 AM  
Anonymous thegreattim said...

Yes Mungo, the entire seeing impaired community needs to be fined and jailed immediately for violation of copyright infringement until their lawyers can negotiate DRM licensing for each individual text-to-speech software. Until then, keep punishing the consumer.

The other poster (Geig) is absolutely right also. The continual fight of copyright vs consumers has gotten so out of hand that it's almost meaningless at this point. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the Sweeds vs The Pirate Bay trial which starts Monday. But it's clear that the media giants need to adapt to a new business model.

This happens every time a major new format becomes available. Didn't Universal sue Sony America for copyright infringements when their VCR really took off? And I'm pretty sure that one of the record companies sued Marconi for his radio. Playing all that music for free. Sheesh.

2/15/2009 9:21 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

The EFF has good post about why the Authors Guild is out to lunch on this issue.

2/15/2009 9:40 AM  
Anonymous infiniteletters said...

There are very specific exceptions in copyright law that allow text-to-speech for the blind.

2/15/2009 10:00 AM  
Blogger lquilter said...

To summarize the main takehome points about why the Authors' Guild is nuts:

Basically none of the six "exclusive rights" of the copyright holder are violated:
* It's not a reproduction because there is no fixation.
* This isn't a "derivative work" because there is no original expression added to it (and it's not fixed).
* This isn't a "public performance" because it's not performed in public.

No exclusive right, so no copyright infringement. No need to get to the various exceptions and exclusions -- the fact that this is arguably an accommodation for the blind, or fair use which is also a pretty good argument in this instance.

2/15/2009 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Vikinga said...

I honor copyright laws, but like the first commentator (Gieg) said, living outside the States (Mexico) I find limitations on what books and music I can purchase electronically very frustrating, and for much the same reasons. (Early Review books I can understand, because of mailing costs and time frames for getting the book out, read and reviewed, independently of any other reasons.)

2/15/2009 2:00 PM  
Anonymous E said...

MS Reader can read ebooks aloud, so hasn't this been addressed before? Granted, the audio sounds horrible, but anyway....

2/15/2009 2:23 PM  
Blogger waltc said...

This absurdity is one reason I've never serious considered joining Authors Guild. Every Windows XP, Vista, and Mac OS X computer comes with text-to-speech capabilities; so does Adobe Reader; and there are free Linux text-to-speech capabilities. Saying they're all illegal if used on copyright text (and all text is technically copyright as soon as it's stored on a PC) is so far beyond the pale...

2/15/2009 3:09 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

With advocates like these . . . it's embarrassing to have a writers organization be so dimwitted. It certainly doesn't help the cause of writers.

Yay for Niel Gaiman and for EFF.

Love the Speak and Spell picture! That's a trip down memory lane.

2/15/2009 7:08 PM  
Blogger lquilter said...

The National Federation of the Blind has spoken on this issue, and they are not happy with the Authors Guild about their statements on the Kindle:

blockquote begins:
Although the Authors Guild claims that it supports making books accessible to the blind, its position on the inclusion of text-to-speech technology in the Kindle 2 is harmful to blind people. The Authors Guild says that having a book read aloud by a machine in the privacy of one’s home or vehicle is a copyright infringement. But blind people routinely use readers, either human or machine, to access books that are not available in alternative formats like Braille or audio. Up until now, no one has argued that this is illegal, but now the Authors Guild says that it is. This is absolutely wrong. The blind and other readers have the right for books to be presented to us in the format that is most useful to us, and we are not violating copyright law as long as we use readers, either human or machine, for private rather than public listening. The key point is that reading aloud in private is the same whether done by a person or a machine, and reading aloud in private is never an infringement of copyright.
: blockquote ends

(emphasis added)

2/16/2009 11:32 AM  
Blogger Kath said...

I am blind every time I close my eyes to listen to an audio book.

2/16/2009 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Jolene said...

This really is absolutely insane. This is not going to lower the amount of people who purchase audio-books. Let's face it, audio books include character voices and sometimes even music. You're not going to get this from a text-to-speech device. (I'm not blind, but I could have webpages read to me, if I so desired.) There is no comparison between an audiobook and text-to-speech. Stop crying about it and let it go.

Imagine that...I can even have the word verification on here spoken to me!

2/16/2009 2:24 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I am certainly no legal expert, but my school has just begun to use, an organization that provides full text of books (to be read by voice sythesizing programs) to students with a legally identified, physical reading disability. Copyright is most certainly a concern. The kids must be registered as having a qualified disability and the teachers/administrators must sign off and say that the materials will not be used by anyone else. I believe that those with physical reading disabilities (including blindness) receive special treatment in terms of copyright. My grandparents used to get tapes from the National Library for the Blind - and those tapes required a specific type of hardware to play them. Copyright certainly gets more and more complicated. An article in Wired magazine once compared intellectual property to a bottle of wine - the two used to be together; now with electronic formats there is no more "bottle" for that intellectual property.

2/19/2009 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3/03/2009 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all I want to know is if it can read aloud (where you can hear it).

12/05/2009 4:25 PM  

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