Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Right To Be Read To

Although I've never fiddled with one, I understand that Amazon's Kindle e-book reader is a pretty nifty gadget. There are several fans in my office, at least. Last week saw Amazon release the second version of the Kindle, which includes an interesting new feature - an option to have the Kindle read text to you out loud.

Neat idea, huh? Not everyone is impressed (via Reason):

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.
I can see where Aiken is coming from, but it seems a bit silly. I can't imagine that audiobook business will be harmed. After all, who is going to ditch a richly narrated recording in favor of a computerized playback that sounds like a stilted Dalek?

In response to the hubbub, Neil Gaiman (whose The Graveyard Book I listened to over the weekend) made this observation:
My point of view: 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. And that any authors' societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what's good about them with it.
It wouldn't be the first silly IP fight that an organization allegedly representing artists had undertaken on their behalf.

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