Authors Guild Digs Itself In Deeper Concerning Kindle Text-To-Speech

from the stop-digging dept

We were among many different sites that laughed at the ridiculous assertions by Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken’s attempt to rewrite copyright law concerning the “right” for people with a legally purchased ebook to have a Kindle ebook reader with text-to-speech read the book aloud. Aiken said:

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

This is, of course, incorrect. To demonstrate how incorrect it was, we applied it to other scenarios: such as reading to your kids at night. This wasn’t to suggest that we actually thought Aiken meant you couldn’t read to your kids at night, but to show how wrong the original comment was. Amusingly, the Authors Guild seems to have thought we actually believed this, and has issued an attempted clarification, which only serves to make things worse.

First, the Authors Guild isn’t backing down — but says it’s “studying this matter closely.” Instead, it recommends that authors who haven’t already made ebook agreements avoid doing so. Because, you know, when you’re an author the best possible thing is to make it more difficult for people who want to read your book to get it. That doesn’t seem very smart. All because someone might listen to their Kindle read it aloud? I would think that the potential of lost readers would be a much bigger concern.

Furthermore, in clarifying that, yes, indeed, reading to your kids is legal, the Guild claims:

The remarks have been interpreted by some as suggesting that the Guild believes that private out-loud reading is protected by copyright. It isn’t, unless the reading is being done by a machine. And even out-loud reading by a machine is fine, of course, if it’s from an authorized audio copy.

I’m having trouble seeing how that’s correct, though, it would be great if the usual assortment of IP lawyers chimed in on this one. Having a machine read to you in the privacy of your own home isn’t a performance, so there’s no performance rights issues. Then if you go down the whole list of rights covered by copyright, none of them seem to apply. It seems that the Authors Guild is making up a new right (watch out, now the lobbyists will try to get it added): the “you can’t do anything innovative unless you pay extra” right.

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Comments on “Authors Guild Digs Itself In Deeper Concerning Kindle Text-To-Speech”

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DanC says:

Neil Gaiman actually got into an argument/discussion with his agent over the issue:

Her [Agent’s] point of view: The Kindle reading you the book-you-just-bought infringes the copyright (or at least, the rights) to the audiobook. We’ve sold audiobook rights and print book rights as separate things. We must stop this.

My [Gaiman’s] 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I was going to post Gaiman’s comment (they can also be found on Boing Boing, but I see someone beat me too them. When it comes down to it, I’ll take Gaiman’s opinion (an ACTUAL author, and a very successful and well respected one) over some corporate shills anyday.

Must be kind of hard to be taken seriously when even the people you are suppose to be “representing” and “protecting” think you are full of crap.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Ever notice

It seems that any large group of people who are affected by the internet and have one group to represent them (RIAA, MPAA, author’s guilds, etc, etc) has that group lose sight of their purpose. The groups always end up only caring about themselves and money. They no longer represent their member’s best interest because all of these old people who have no clue how to operate technology freak out about every possible little change that they really can benefit from. Instead they waste insane amounts of money screwing over the public. The faster this group goes away, along with the RIAA and all of the ilk, the better.

The internet is here, deal with it and stop screwing over the public.

TriZz says:


Engadget had an ex-copyright attorney explain this situation on their site a few days back and it was really interesting…the attorney seemed to agree with the guild.

I think this whole thing is stupid, I would assume that if the software is just reading text and not creating an audio file then there’s no violation.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Explained...

Engadget had an ex-copyright attorney explain this situation on their site a few days back and it was really interesting…the attorney seemed to agree with the guild.

I read his explanation, and I think he’s wrong. The EFF (also copyright attorneys) explanation is much more compelling.

The biggest problem is that the TTS is not a *fixed copy* and its not a *public performance* so it’s not a violation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Actually...

…what they really fear, is that no one is going to buy the audio copy if the Kindle will read to them. I believe that’s all this really is.

That seems absurd. I’m not sure how this device works, but it sound like mechanical speech to me. If people were happy with mechanical speech, they wouldn’t hire actual people to do audiobooks. Just as certain authors are successful because of their writing style, certain people are used for audio books because of their narrating style. HOW people speak, can sometimes be more powerful than what they are saying.

GJ says:

I still don't get it...

so… if I read a book out look in the public market square, I’m breaking copyright law?

If I have a pianola, and I make it play a music roll in public, I’m breaking copyright law.

But if I have a pianola and I make it play a music roll in the privacy of my own home, I should be ok. Right?

What’s the difference between a pianola and a kindle then?


John Duncan Yoyo (profile) says:

Re: Reading to your kids

>One thing not clear from the Guild’s
>”clarification” – does reading to
>your kids become a copyright violation
>when you have more than 3.4 kids?

And what about story time at the public library?

Do I need to add The WGA to my DEATH TO THE RIAA bumper sticker? Or Richard the Third improved

jeadly (profile) says:

Two Things

I had two thoughts about this today.

First, what are the standards in music? Buying sheet music of a song is not the same as buying a CD of a musician playing the song. But you certainly have the right to play the sheet music at home on a piano. Do you also have the right to have a synthesizer play back the song? I think so. Is that really viable competition to (and infringement of) the professionally produced and artist performed version? I wouldn’t think so.

Second, what if there was an automatic writing machine that could create works of text with virtually no human input? Would it put human authors out of business or would the Writer’s Guild assert that human authors brought something more to the table than machines could?

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the audio books are performances of written material. They’re also selling the source material which is essentially instructions for creating private performances, whether human or not. If they’re upset about losing some income, the Writers Guild should be focusing on value they could add rather than trying to limit the options of its customers.

Digital_Monk (profile) says:

Blinded by greed

Has anyone even given thought to what the text-to-speech means to the sight impaired? There are many people who can see only a little that are legally blind. Does the Authors Guild really want to get into a legal fight with a disabled person who now has a way of getting access to all that content. I seem to remember Target getting slapped with a lawsuit recently for not making their website accessible to the blind. All kindle really has to do is label this feature Handicap Accessible and the Authors Guild will have to shut up.

Larry the Lesser says:

Contract issue (not copyright)

This is a contract issue, not a copyright issue. Imagine that Amazon signed a contract for “electronic distribution” where “electronic” is defined to exclude “audio”. “Audio” is then outside of the contract.

The dispute arises because the actual contract is probably less clear that “audio” is excluded from the rights that Amazon purchased.

Thwaaack says:

Readers for the blind?

I have to wonder if this was an issue when tools for the handicapped came out which do exactly what the Kindle does, only from hard copy instead of a digital file. In my opinion, this is nothing less than the AG trying to roadblock innovation, because of perceived loss of revenue. I highly doubt anyone will refrain from buying audiobooks if they enjoy such things, all because a device can belch out the words in robotic monotone. Every audiobook I’ve heard has been a performance in and of itself, not someone reading in monotone.

teknosapien says:

Umm wait a moment

The remarks have been interpreted by some as suggesting that the Guild believes that private out-loud reading is protected by copyright. It isn’t, unless the reading is being done by a machine. And even out-loud reading by a machine is fine, of course, if it’s from an authorized audio copy.

so all those Machines that are used to help the visually impaired are now illegal, guess they hate their customer base and want it to shrink ?

Luci says:

Text-To-Speech, illegal?

Okay, so… I’m legally blind. I use text-to-speech and various other programs. Now you’re going to tell me that I have no right to ‘read’ a book I legally purchased when there’s no audiobook version available? Go ahead, TRY to stop me. I’m sick of people taking on extra ‘rights’ they aren’t allowed and trying to screw folks like me. Take your book and cram it up the chocolate highway, asshats.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Author's Guild and Kindle

As an IP attorney, I believe Michael is dead right (and fair and balanced, to revert to the old Fox lie – even though it is true here).

I think the Author’s Guild is trying the time-worn old “throw it up against the wall” trick – if it “sticks”, they get more money, if it doesn’t “stick”, everyone just says “Aw, heck!” and “goes home”.

Chris says:

Buch of hooey...

for this to be a copyright infringement, it has to be an infringement of one of the copy “rights” in the US Copyright Act — copying, distribution, preparing derivative works, public display & public performance. You can forget the “public” part since there’s no “public” involved — each performance is of a single copy to a single person, and it’s done by that person him/herself on equipment he/she owns and controls. There’s no copying or distribution of anything other than the original electronic book, which (we presume) Amazon has a license to do. And, there’s no derivative work, because derivative works have to be “fixed” — something would have to record the output.

Even if any of this did happen, it would be Kindle OWNER, not Amazon doing it. And, that means that Amazon would only be liable for selling a device used to circumvent copyright. But, under the Betamax case, as long as that ability had “substantial noninfringing uses,” Amazon isn’t liable. And, there are several substantial noninfringing uses — playing public domain books, playing audio of books which do not have audio versions for blind people, etc….

thomas (profile) says:

Won't hurt audio book sales

People who buy audio books look for specific persons doing the audio since there’s a wide variety of people doing the audio. When audio books are reviewed, the name of the reader is given; the buyers are picky. The implication is that a computer rendered voice for Kindle2 isn’t going to be popular among audio book fans. There are popular readers who do the audio for the books and people look for them.

robin (profile) says:


the luddites are at it again:

this time by the guild’s president, roy blount.

bullet points…

first mr. blount sets up his straw man

“given all the new ways of not getting paid that new technology affords authors”

to protect his inability to deal with and adapt to technological innovation, as well as establish his victim status.

then, as mike pointed out above, he goes for the “It seems that the Authors Guild is making up a new right …: the “you can’t do anything innovative unless you pay extra” right. ” by stating quite openly

“For the record: no, the Authors Guild does not expect royalties from anybody doing non-commercial performances of “Goodnight Moon.” If parents want to send their children off to bed with the voice of Kindle 2, however, it’s another matter.”

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