The Authors Guild warned Thursday that Amazon’s newest digital e-book reader’s voice function is likely violating writers’ copyrights — an assertion intellectual property experts said was baseless.
“Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books,” the guild told its members in a memo Thursday.
The issue concerns a function on the Kindle 2 that permits a user to enable a robotron-like voice to read the literature aloud.
“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.”
In short, the guild says authors should be awarded audio-licensing fees for these e-books, as is the case in the $1 billion audio-book market in which writers or actors orate novels. Out-loud reading by a machine is fine, the guild said, “if it’s from an authorized audio copy.”
It warned that the computer-generated voices, so-called “text-to-speech” functions, are expected “to improve rapidly” and undermine lucrative audio-book sales.
Wendy Seltzer, a legal scholar at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, said no rights are being violated. Amazon’s newest gadget, she said, “is enabling another feature to make further lawful uses of that book.”
The Kindle 2 is exposing the closing technological divide between digital and audio formats of books, she said.
“Once you have a lawfully made reproduction, you can read it, you can use it as a door stop and you can text-speechify it,” Seltzer said.
Michael Kwun, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has an in-depth posting on the EFF’s DeepLinks Blog that he said debunks the guild’s theory. He wrote that the synthesized voice is not a derivative work, as the guild claims, that is “based upon one or more preexisting works which, as a whole, represents an original work of authorship.”
That’s jargon for this: It’s not as if the Kindle 2 is producing Broadway plays with e-books — which obviously would require derivative licensing.
Amazon did not return messages seeking comment, but told The Associated Press that the e-books are properly licensed.