More Kindle yech

Tue 10 Feb 2009 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Leave a Comment | Posted by: Gavin

So it looks like we may have to withdraw at least some of our titles from the Kindle as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Some publishers and agents expressed concern over a new, experimental feature that reads text aloud with a computer-generated voice.

“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.”

An Amazon spokesman noted the text-reading feature depends on text-to-speech technology, and that listeners won’t confuse it with the audiobook experience. Amazon owns Audible, a leading audiobook provider.

We queried our contact at Amazon and he said:

The ability to read text aloud is very different from producing an audio version of a written work, so audio distribution rights are not required for any titles currently available as eBooks in the Kindle store.

But the difference is that the Kindle is specifically a reading device, so customers can buy the ebook—and get it read to them, which is a different product and right, an audiobook—whereas a computer is a multifunction device. We’re happy that computers have text-to-speech capabilities for visually impaired readers but this seems to be directly impinging on an author’s rights. Hmm.


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  1. Cheryl’s Mewsings » Blog Archive » Kindle Breaches Copyright? on February 10th, 2009 7:09 pm

    […] a fascinating post up on the Small Beer Press web site about the new Kindle. The machine has text-to-voice capability, allowing it to “read” a […]

  2. Alisa Krasnostein on February 10th, 2009 8:47 pm

    Wow that’s a really serious issue. As a publisher I don’t necessarily own the audio rights to the works I buy. Does that make me in violation if I have ebooks on Kindle?

    I’ll have to think about this too.

  3. Celia on February 10th, 2009 11:02 pm

    I was wondering about that myself–it’s all well and good to be accessible to all sorts of handicaps. And yet, what sort of blind/visually impaired person thinks “What I really need is an expensive ebook reader?”

  4. Paul Jessup on February 11th, 2009 9:51 am

    I brought this up when I wrote an article on the Kindle 2 launch for epaper central. I have to agree that this is most likely infringing on audio rights, no matter what Amazon thinks. People won’t buy the audio copies of the books for long trips if they can just set there Kindle in the passenger seat and hit the text to speech function.

  5. drootzler on February 11th, 2009 5:49 pm

    I don’t know – why does mode matter?

    I get that current practice in publishing is to separate these rights, but why are you the publisher responsible and not or the person using the device?

    I can go to the library and photocopy anything, but the library isn’t responsible for it if I infringe on copyright (there are big signs that say so). I’m responsible.

    And yet, not too long ago, Napster got nailed for providing the technology to infringe copyright. Isn’t Amazon really responsible if someone hits that text to speech button?

    Or are publishers just hoping to get more $ for the electronic rights? I’m not seeing how this really affects Small Beer or other independent presses and would love to know more.

    And more importantly, won’t the widespread use of a reading device that talks encourage the sales of stories about robots told in the first-person?

  6. Lauren dixon on February 11th, 2009 7:46 pm

    That is awful! I pre-ordered the Kindle, but I hadn’t even thought about that kind of infringement…Amazon is going to need to address this or they’ll wind up in court.

  7. occasional fish » Some book links on February 18th, 2009 1:38 pm

    […] specifically how it might infringe on an author’s audio rights.Small Beer Press, for one, Wasn’t too happy about it: But the difference is that the Kindle is specifically a reading device, so customers can buy the […]

  8. Eric J on February 19th, 2009 4:52 pm

    Before you folks go off the deep end, please listen to some sample text-to-speech content on a Kindle, or at least try a sample text string from the built-in playback on a Mac computer. (I’d provide a link to an mp3 sample right now, but I’m posting from an iPhone…. Will return tomorrow if anyones interested.) The notion that Joe Audiobook Consumer will discontinue his consumption of professionally produced audiobooks in favor of an experience akin to hearing Keanu Reeves recite a phonebook is ludicrous.

    Even if the output was something a human could comfortably listen to for the duration of even a chapter of a book, this sort of thinking is misguided. It is akin to the music industry’s attempts to create a market wherein consumers would pay separately for the right to enjoy music in a Cd player, mp3 player, computer, cell phone, etc. This backfired horribly. History is repeating itself even today: read up on Boxee and Hulu on Marc Hedlund’s blog.)

    The Kindle is both a new platform and a fresh marketplace that is not already dominated by mainstream authors and publishers. There’s a unique, early opportunity for independents to shape the readership. I’d hate to see you guys blow it.

  9. lcrw on February 20th, 2009 4:12 pm

    Hey Eric, drootzler, I don’t feel we’re going off the deep end here. What I do see is a possible rights encroachment which may lead at some point to an actual rights grab. I am not supposing many people will listen to the text-to-speech version yet, but I would be stupid not to consider the consequences. How long will it be before that text-to-speech has a contextual recognition feature which allows with to read in a more natural cadence? At what point will one of our authors complain and put us on the spot?

    As for not blowing our chances with the Kindle: our books have been available on it for a year now. However, being tied in to Amazon is not a comfortable position for any supplier.

    I am much happier with our experience with We sell PDFs from our website and ebooks through Mobipocket (I know they are owned by Amazon, too, as are too many other things), Follet, Google Books, Scribd, etc.

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