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Print 19 comment(s) - last by MrTeal.. on Feb 18 at 7:42 PM

Robotic speech synthesizer threatens to undermine audiobook sales

Did you know that using the text-to-speech feature of your shiny new Amazon Kindle 2 is a violation of copyrights?

No? Well, guess what? It is, says the Author’s Guild.

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

As published in an “E-Book Rights Alert” published to the Authors Guild website, the Kindle’s robotic text-to-speech synthesis poses a “significant challenge to the publishing industry.”

The memo goes on to warn authors that unless Amazon acquires text-to-speech rights from publishers, authors should avoid turning their back catalogues into e-books as it might undermine their audio market.

Setting aside Mr. Aiken’s seemingly clumsy understanding of copyright law, the Authors Guild seems to be reacting the same way to technology a few other intellectual property associations – the RIAA, the MPAA, and their international counterpart.

While an angry missive from the Author’s Guild is much smaller in scale than, say, the MPAA’s attempt to kill VCRs on similar grounds – not to mention the fact that VCRs actually copy things by design, whereas the Kindle does not – it’s worth noting that the Kindle 2 and its text-to-speech feature have only been known about for the past week.

The Authors Guild does have some leverage, however, and it looks like it may try to use it: member publishers could cut or alter their contracts, which could put Amazon in an interesting position. Neither is the guild is afraid of lawsuits, so don’t count them completely out: don’t forget that this was the group took Google to task for its book-scanning program, which ended up in a painful $125 million settlement in the Guild’s favor.

Update 16-Feb: In a "reading to your kids" footnote at the end of its statement, the Authors Guild says its perfectly fine to verbally read a book out loud, provided it's not for a public performance. The Guild says it also doesn't have an issue with the Kindle 2's text-to-speech, as long as it is being read from "from an authorized audio copy."



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Pure BS
By Visual on 2/16/2009 9:35:34 AM , Rating: 2
I really doubt that the quality even remotely compares to an actual audio book read by professional artists. In fact all the text-to-speech engines I've heard so far are too terrible to bear... though I admit it's been quite a while since I looked into those, and they were limited to the implementation that MS packed with windows, and a couple online demos of other random alternatives.

But that's not even important. The audio version of the book resulting from text-to-speech is only a derivative work if it is copied, sold or marketed separately from the text version. That isn't the case.

Any sane court would laugh at such ridiculous claim.




RE: Pure BS
By Etsp on 2/16/2009 10:21:00 AM , Rating: 2
It's almost as if they are saying that you can't have someone read books out loud where others can hear.

I sincerely hope that the authors guild doesn't go the RIAA route... "If you purchased music, and you are playing it loudly enough for someone to hear it that hasn't purchased it, you are committing piracy."


RE: Pure BS
By masher2 (blog) on 2/16/2009 10:44:08 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
It's almost as if they are saying that you can't have someone read books out loud where others can hear
You can't -- if that person is reading more than short excerpts in a public performance to those who don't own the book.

But this isn't the case here. If you own a book, do you have the right to hire someone to read it to you? I would argue that this is no different here. You're simply hiring an automated reader, rather than an individual.

I supported the Guild in their original suit against Google, but they're clearly in the wrong here.


RE: Pure BS
By Manch on 2/16/2009 12:15:03 PM , Rating: 1
So, when a librarian would read children stories to all the kids she's breaking the law? naice!


RE: Pure BS
By Visual on 2/17/2009 5:26:10 AM , Rating: 2
a public performance of the material without permission is illegal, but libraries are already kind-of an exception to this, as anyone can go and read the books there.

there are also special fair-use exceptions for education purposes.

also, a teacher reading to his class is still a private performance, not public. a teacher publicly offering to read to anyone that asks him (or pays him) on the other hand...

but public performance is not the issue here anyway.


RE: Pure BS
By Manch on 2/17/2009 5:01:56 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
but public performance is not the issue here anyway.
Yeah, I was responding to mashers comment about it being illegal and dude I was only joking, hence the "Naice!" Plus the update wasn't there when i originally posted.

Now I have to tell my girl that she's not a naughty naughty librarian........


RE: Pure BS
By lagitup on 2/17/2009 9:13:46 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Now I have to tell my girl that she's not a naughty naughty librarian........

You just made my entire f*cking day.


RE: Pure BS
By Oregonian2 on 2/16/2009 4:54:56 PM , Rating: 2
This has been talked about a fair bit in the Kindle world (I've had a Kindle for several months). At least one authoritarian sort of fellow (a copyright expert with impressive sounding credentials) said that there wasn't a problem with the kindle's text-to-speech.

That the Kindle does real-time text-to-speech makes it like a person reading the book. Also that the speech isn't being recorded seems to be important.

On a pragmatic level, the quality won't be even in the same galaxy as a professional audio-book reader (at least the ones I've heard that were spectacularly good), but I don't know that the quality differences should matter in a discussion of the legal/moral issue.


RE: Pure BS
By omnicronx on 2/17/2009 9:42:59 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I supported the Guild in their original suit against Google, but they're clearly in the wrong here.
I agree, they are going to have a real time proving this. My guess is they know damn well this will go nowhere, they just want to put the pressure on Amazon, as they could easily convince authors to not license to them and go elsewhere.

quote:
And the guild worries that could undermine the market for audio books.
Excuse me but who do you think reads audio books? Those who have to read a certain amount of books a year just to make the kindle a viable solution? I am sorry but the market for audio books is those that are blind, those that don't have the time to read, and those with a hard time reading. This is the main market for audio books, not those using the kindle!

What I find funny here is that anyone can take a copy of a book, copy it on to a computer and use the text-to-speech feature and it is perfectly legal (as long as you are the only one listening to it). I would really like the guild to explain how text-to-speech on the kindle is any different.


RE: Pure BS
By MrTeal on 2/18/2009 7:42:32 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I am sorry but the market for audio books is those that are blind, those that don't have the time to read, and those with a hard time reading. This is the main market for audio books, not those using the kindle!


I listen to audio books quite often while on long trips, and I know many people who do the same. I don't think the market is quite as limited as you seem to think.


RE: Pure BS
By microAmp on 2/17/2009 9:55:39 AM , Rating: 2
Would you like to play a game today?

http://www.research.ibm.com/tts/coredemo.shtml


By Chiropetra on 2/17/2009 1:31:50 AM , Rating: 2
Has anyone pointed out to the geniuses at the Author's Guild that nearly every computer out there has text-to-speech capability? It's been built in to Windows for years and the Mac almost from the beginning. I'm pretty sure it's also available for Linux as well.




By aegisofrime on 2/17/2009 1:47:00 AM , Rating: 2
The thing is you won't want the built in speech to be reading to you. For fear of causing brain rot. Or your ears bleeding. Their only use is in Machinima :D


By lagitup on 2/17/2009 9:16:41 PM , Rating: 2
So the problem, apparently, is then not hearing the book. It is hearing the book spoken intelligibly without paying for it to be spoken in such a manner.

Looks like its time to add a "book search" option on the pirate bay...


By the goat on 2/16/2009 11:50:36 AM , Rating: 5
I'm glad my parents were willing to risk going to jail by reading books to me as a child.

This claim by the author's guild is total crap.




and what about the blind?
By tastyratz on 2/16/2009 12:56:15 PM , Rating: 2
Are they going to point fingers at products intended to convey publications to the blind as well?

If anything they should embrace the kindle.

In the internet age I am sure that true book sales are probably dwindling in favor of e-book's and free online publications.

This is a source of revenue for them (albeit small). Downloads through the kindle are hardly as susceptible to pirating as circulating pdf's (making it in turn more secure).

In the end (and in this economy), $359 for a digital book device where you still purchase those books is a niche product which will likely have a minimal impact anyways.




RE: and what about the blind?
By wordsworm on 2/17/2009 3:44:03 AM , Rating: 2
"In the end (and in this economy), $359 for a digital book device where you still purchase those books is a niche product which will likely have a minimal impact anyways. "

You know, when they drop down to $99, I might very well get one of my own. The only reason it's expensive now is because it's a fledgling product. In 2-3 years I'm certain we'll see them at that price point.

Truth is that I don't like most of the crap that gets published these days anyways. The stuff I like is public domain and I can get it freely off of the net from such sites as Gutenberg.org.

The interesting thing is that these things last for weeks, you can store hundreds of books on them, get subscriptions, etc. It seems inevitable that soon (2-5 years from now), everyone who likes to read will have one. I just have a harder time reading off of LCDs than off of the page. I haven't seen a Kindle or similar reading device, but the reviews suggest that they're extremely kind to the eyes, font sizes can be adjusted, and that they last for weeks. That's just about everything a person could want. But $400 Canadian is just to steep for me.

It could just be the fact that I travel all the time, and bringing books and a desktop take up most of my baggage allowance. In the end, I mailed most of my books back to my parents' while I'm in Asia. Getting good books here - and no, I don't think of "Twilight" or any of the top tens as 'good,' is difficult and more expensive than what I used to get in Montreal, Halifax, or Vancouver - the cities I used to live in in Canada.

Gutenberg has thousands of great titles you can download. So there's no need to purchase anything after getting the e-ink device.


I see their point, but...
By johnsonx on 2/16/2009 6:02:47 PM , Rating: 3
The Guild is simply going to have to accept that once they license a work as an e-book there are going to be various other ways of presenting the material, both anticipated and otherwise. If they're not happy with that, then they shouldn't sell their work as an e-book. If the text-to-speech ability makes a given work have more value, then the market will allow a higher price.




gravy train
By supergarr on 2/16/2009 10:24:09 AM , Rating: 2
always someone that has to ride on the gravy train for free.




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