According To Author's Guild, You Cannot Read Books Out Loud

from the player-pianos-anyone? dept

As you may know, when player pianos were first introduced, there was a massive fear among musicians that it would be the death of the live music industry. With a player piano, why would anyone ever need to go see a live performance again? In fact, the roots of our rather draconian modern copyright law come, in part, from this dispute. You can see it time and time again, as each new technology comes along, someone freaks out, demands an extra layer of gov’t granted rights (and often a compulsory license) and only later discovers that these “threats” were really opportunities all along.

The latest such example comes from an absolutely extraordinary statement from Paul Aitken, the executive director of the Authors Guild, upon hearing that the new Amazon Kindle has an experimental text-to-speech factor. Rather than think about how this feature might expand readership, he immediately insisted that it’s illegal to use it:

“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud. That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”

By that reasoning pretty much any use of text-to-speech software is illegal, which would make for a fascinating legal case. And, actually, if you take that reasoning further, any reading outloud from a book that is not yours is also a violation of copyright law, according to Aitken. Read to your kids at night? Watch out for the Authors Guild police banging down your door. I would think that in purchasing a book, some of the associated rights that come along with it are the right to either read it aloud or have someone else read it aloud to you, but perhaps we’ll soon be hearing about a special new “text-to-speech” right with a special compulsory license that will add a nice little extra charge to every book you buy. In the meantime, who put the Luddites in charge of the Authors Guild?

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “According To Author's Guild, You Cannot Read Books Out Loud”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
LostSailor says:

Audio rights is not "reading aloud"

This is not about reading to your kids at night, it’s about audio rights, part of the bundle of rights an author has in his/her book.

What will be interesting, assuming it goes to court if it goes that far, is if by selling content for a dedicated devise that is designed to produce an audio version is considered actual “production” of an audio version under the terms of the copyright act.

Text-to-Speech is permitted in producing books for the visually disabled, no matter who has the audio rights.

Aithne Jarretta (user link) says:

Read Out Loud & Kindle

Interesting that the Writer’s Guild would come up with this. The Adobe program on my computer also has a ‘Read Out Loud’ aspect. I never use it because it is flawed with mispronounced words, emotionless diction and a male voice that sounds like a robot. Will Kindle have these features?

As an author of both print and ebooks, I am not offended if someone purchases my book and chooses to listen to it. Infact, IMHO this opens my work to readers/listeners that may have missed it before.

Aithne Jarretta
Parnormal romance Author
Feed Your Romantic Spirit ~ Indulge in the Magic!
CONCENTRIC CIRCLES (available on Kindle & in print)

fastfinge (user link) says:

In Fact, This Is Probably Legal

As a completely blind person who purchases ebooks regularly from, restricting the ability to have books produced in text to speech is both legal and done all the time. If you view any book on, and scroll down the page a bit, you will sometimes see something like:
“Microsoft Reader (LIT) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud DISABLED
Adobe Acrobat (PDF) Format:  Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud DISABLED
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED”

If you are a blind reader, in order to legally read your ebook, you must make sure that read-aloud is set to enabled on at least one format. Apparently, the DMCA/copyright law effectively trump the ADA. What I wonder is: by read-aloud, does fictionwise exclusively mean TTS software, or does it mean that anyone who purchases the ebook isn’t allowed to read it? If I buy an ebook with read-aloud disabled, can I ask Mike to read it to me?

Vincent McBurney (user link) says:

text to speech is not audio

There should be a difference between text to speech programs and an audio of a book. An audio book has someone reading the text who knows how to read out loud and enhances the text. A text to speech is a programmed conversion of words to speech. If Amazon is employing James Earl Jones to sit in a room and read a book out loud every time someone makes a word to speech request they may be in trouble but since it’s a souless computer program what’s the fuss?

Mr. Fresco (user link) says:

No need for copyright or IP laws

The resource-based economy quickly goes to work on clean sources of energy. This is only possible when there are no more monetary limitations in the way of accomplishing or providing what’s needed. With the restrictions of profit, property, and scarcity eliminated, research labs would quickly begin working together and sharing information freely. There would be no need for patents or proprietary information since the end goal is not to make money in order to continue working, but to achieve results that are
freely and quickly available to the planet’s entire population.

W. Shanck says:

What about the rights of physically challenged people?

If this does become an issue in the courts and the Author’s Guild is triumphant, then what about disability laws? Are we supposed to tell a blind person that they can never again hear a book that doesn’t have an associated “audio right.” Instead of being about how much money you can squeeze from a creative work by never having anything drop into the public domain, maybe everyone needs to remember that the intended purpose of copyright law was supposed to protect the creator’s creation for a LIMITED time and create and atmosphere where knowlege was eventually shared.

Marilynn Byerly (profile) says:

the difference between TTS and audio rights

The real point of the Author Guild’s comments is the legal issue of whether text-to-speech and audio rights are the same thing. This hasn’t been clarified in court, and until it is, authors and publishers are afraid that by allowing TTS through the Kindle or any other reader, they are losing their audio rights.

Right now, many of the major audio book companies won’t touch a book that has TTS so publishers are blocking TTS via DRM.

This situation is a good thing for the disabled and other readers because once this issue is settled, probably in favor of TTS and audio rights being different things, TTS will be allowed on all electronic books.

Joe says:

Derivative, Recording and Performance, Oh My!

There is no derivative. A derivative needs to be substantially different yet based upon the original work. Strike one.

There isn’t any physical copy of the audio before or after the book is being read. If the audio is not set in some type of medium, there can be no recording rights issue.
Strike Two.

Performance rights only come into play if it’s performed in public. Listening to a kindle or reading a book out loud in a public park could be infringement if you have an audience. Even then it’s not the kindle but you performing it for an audience in public that would be illegal.
Strike Three.

bookslinger (user link) says:

He he

It’s that new turning point for another industry isn’t it! The publishing world are getting used to a new world with e-books and at the moment, for wont of a better phrase, they are bricking it.

However, some are reacting, I’ve noticed one publisher has set up Book Army to bring authors and readers together, promote e-books and much more…it will be interesting to see if they kick off at all, and indeed how the e-book market develops. The whole notion of a kindle reading out stuff kind of disgusts me in someways – no. 1 you are no longer reading it, no. 2 it would be very annoying on public transport without headphones! Then again, is that any different to audiobooks? The answer is no.

It’s all very complicated!

Jake says:

replying to the right

What a silly right Aitken had mentioned. If you stop people from ROL our futur education will be a mess. Reporter won’t have any talking practice for there show, soon they will talk like a moron with a fade pronounsation. Talking is something needed and importantly a correct pronounsation. I hope you authorities rethink about this decision.

P.S. My english is bad cause it is our lag of education from Bonaire. I hope you reader understand my point. Thanks alot 😛 Ciao

Person says:


Actually, fascism would LOVE to make it illegal to read books aloud. They weren’t fond of books, but they were quite fond of law. They burned books very often. Fascism is just another form of socialism, like communism. IT is centered around the state, rather than the feds, but still very central in its own way.

The thing you are calling fascism (Libertarianism) promotes less law and the only resemblance to fascism it carries is the preference to state law over federal law. This is also different however, as state law in fascism is extremely strict, whereas in Libertarianism, state law is meant to be loose so that the smallest level of community can govern itself without interference, like city government, or even as small a unit as a family.

HopeFollows (profile) says:

Similar to Clare but on YouTube

I’ve actually been doing some video readings of books on YouTube, ones I personally wrote and other authors wrote. I did get permission from an author, considering the one I wrote had some similarities to a series he had done. The other, well, she’s been dead for 30 years, counting 2015.
I am only wondering, though. Do we still need consent from the publishers, even after the author’s been dead for 10+ years? I want to read another author’s work, but nervous to do so.

:facepalm: says:


holy crap hahahaha!!!! You think historical and political mentions of ‘the State’ is talking about -US States-?! That is hilariously dumb! ‘The State’ is a generalized description applied to -any federal jurisdiction. (Hence England, Germany, France, and pretty much every western nation using that phrase) Fascism, unlike your extremely infantile description, is an authoritarian regime based around strict control of life ‘for the betterment of the state’ that they want to believe will reduce crime, increase individual happiness and prosperity, and be more effective than the “laissez-faire attitude afflicting other countries.” (Of course, this itself is an extremely broad and simplified view, and to fully understand it and its implications for everything economical, political, psychological, et al takes a great effort. You can’t even begin to truly know why it came about, why people wanted, what its core tenets are, and what its mission was without an enormous effort put into studying it that is definitely greater than listening to idiots share their retarded misinformed viewpoints on am radio or fox news or whatever isn’t considered ‘Fake News. WRONG’.

jeff (profile) says:

text to speech is not audio

So, by this reasoning, it’s the quality of the work that defines copyright? Frankly, that’s idiotic.

Shouldn’t it be the commercialization of that recording, be it by computer or by “someone reading the text who knows how to read out loud?”

If a production is made for commercial gain– ie. sold to the public– then copyright should come into play, and the author should be due a royalty on each copy. If I read a book out loud, even if I record it and distribute it to others for free and with no intention to profit from the work, then it shouldn’t be subject to copyright anymore or any less than the “text to speech” function. Or, rather, as I believe is true under US copyright law, the copyright holder should retain the right to sue for 100% of the profit made by my recording which, in this case, is zero.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...