If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I haven't been bowled over by the regressive stances taken by The Authors Guild. And the latest contretemps isn't doing anything to change my opinion.
One of the new features of the Kindle 2 is the Text-to-Speech function, which reads the e-book out loud with a computer-generated voice.
According to The Wall Street Journal:
"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."The Authors Guild posted a statement on its website here. The comment included the following:
This presents a significant challenge to the publishing industry. Audiobooks surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2007; e-book sales are just a small fraction of that. While the audio quality of the Kindle 2, judging from Amazon's promotional materials, is best described as serviceable, it's far better than the text-to-speech audio of just a few years ago. We expect this software to improve rapidly.Yahoo had this to say:
We're studying this matter closely and will report back to you. In the meantime, we recommend that if you haven't yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn't the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon's use of those rights is part of the dialog.
The challenge revolves around audiobooks, which are treated separately from printed material from a copyright standpoint. A retailer can't record a copy of a book on a CD and sell it or bundle it along with a novel without paying a separate fee, just as buying a copy of an audiobook doesn't entitle you to a free copy of the printed version.The thing is, every audiobook I've ever purchased was read out loud by actors, and had sound effects, including music.
Amazon -- and many legal observers -- vehemently question this stance, noting that an automated text-to-speech system isn't the same as a pre-recorded audio book . . . Since the Kindle doesn't store a copy of the book on the device in an audio format, but rather converts from text on the fly, it seems likely that Amazon is on the right side of the law on this one.
My new laptop has a Text-to-Speech feature. A computerized voice is a freaking long way from any audiobook I've ever heard.
I want to understand the slippery slope argument here, but I'm having some difficulty.
And coming fresh off Cory Doctorow's speech to Microsoft (see yesterday's post), I can't help but remember these words, which Doctorow gave permission for others to copy:
Whenever a new technology has disrupted copyright, we've changed copyright. Copyright isn't an ethical proposition, it's a utilitarian one . . .If history has taught us anything, it is that technology cannot be stopped. The auto manufacturers tried to bury the electric car because they were convinced gas guzzlers were the wave of the future. We know how that worked out. If the American auto industry had begun to adapt years ago, they wouldn't be facing the crisis they are confronting today.
Technology that disrupts copyright does so because it simplifies and cheapens creation, reproduction and distribution. The existing copyright businesses exploit inefficiencies in the old production, reproduction and distribution system, and they'll be weakened by the new technology. But new technology always gives us more art with a wider reach: that's what tech is *for*.
Tech gives us bigger pies that more artists can get a bite out of. That's been tacitly acknowledged at every stage of the copyfight since the piano roll. When copyright and technology collide, it's copyright that changes.
Which means that today's copyright -- the thing that DRM nominally props up -- didn't come down off the mountain on two stone tablets. It was created in living memory to accommodate the technical reality created by the inventors of the previous generation. To abandon invention now robs tomorrow's artists of the new businesses and new reach and new audiences that the Internet and the PC can give them.
IMHO, The Authors Guild does writers no favors by encouraging them to cling to a model that is ultimately doomed to failure. Sure, they may win a battle or two, but the outcome of the war is already determined.
Writers need to learn to straddle both worlds--print and e-books--and to move forward with their readers, not against them.