Another day, another potentially disruptive technology called out by conservative and fear-mongering industry groups. Paul Aiken, director of the Author’s Guild, is calling the Kindle 2′s text-to-speech system a form of copyright transgression in that it essentially creates an audiobook, albeit automatically. From the WSJ:
“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.
Note the last part: Amazon, as Aiken sees it, is basically stealing from itself. What we’re really dealing with here is an example of copyright being extrapolated onto disparate actions. Reading a book into a microphone in a calm measured tone in a recording booth or going to a stadium and reading your latest novel to thousands of cheering fans (wouldn’t that be nice, authors? We can dream) are both “performances,” actions which should protected. If I charge you $5 for my homebrew reading of Harry Potter and the Tenuous Plot Device, I’m breaking copyright. Concurrently, if I charge you $5 for my Kindle text-to-speech version of The Ladies’ Detective Agency Enters Menopause I am also breaking copyright. But if I sit in a room and read Gravity’s Rainbow to myself from a copy of the book I own, it’s not infringement.
Tools exist to infringe on anything, physical or digital – just ask Rolex and Prada. You can react to real issues, Mr. Aiken, like wholesale book piracy in China, or you can keep kicking the shins of a company that has made the most money for authors since the invention of the printing press.