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Authors Guild Continues To Falsely Claim That Reading Aloud On A Kindle Violates Audio Rights

from the which-rights-exactly? dept

Roy Blount Jr. is a funny man. He appears regularly on the radio show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me..., and is one of their funnier panelists. But, unfortunately, I don't think he was joking when he wrote a silly Op-Ed for the NY Times defending the Authors Guild's stance that having a Kindle use text-to-speech to read aloud is somehow a violation under copyright law. Blount, who's the President of the Guild, seem to be arguing not from a legal perspective, but from a "but this is how we want it to be" perspective. That's because he has almost no legal argument at all. Using text-to-speech to read text you legally own aloud is not copyright infringement. It's not a "fixed" version of the material, and it's not a public performance. So, rather than come up with a legal justification for such a ridiculous claim, Blount resorts to this: "audio books are a billion-dollar market."

This is the "but the old way of doing business made us so much money, so any innovation must be illegal" argument. You know what else was a big market at one time? Horse & buggies. And Gramophones. And 8-tracks. But technology made them all obsolete at some point or another, and that wasn't illegal. You don't get to cling to an old business model just because it made you lots of money. Sometimes new technologies come along, and they provide a better experience for people, and the market changes. Already it's a stretch to say that a TTS read-aloud of a book really "competes" with an audio book, but even if it did one day, that doesn't necessarily make it illegal just because Blount and the Authors Guild wishes it were so.

Finally, Blount responds to criticism that the Authors Guild's stance goes against readers for the blind or the ability to read aloud to your kid at night. He basically just says "no, that's not true." But he doesn't explain why. That's because there is no good explanation, based on what the Authors Guild has said concerning "audio rights." Basically, the Authors Guild is trying to pretend copyright says what it wants it to say, rather than what it actually says. And, when people have pointed out examples of how the Authors Guild's interpretation of copyright is bogus, their response is "well, we didn't mean it for that." They are, of course, missing the point. Those examples aren't to show the full impact of what the Authors Guild is claiming. They're to show that the Authors Guild is wrong in what it thinks copyright grants them. For a group of "Authors" they seem to have trouble with basic reading comprehension.

Update: John Paczkowski has a great post on this, comparing Blount's statements to those of John Philip Sousa a century ago, complaining about the introduction of "playing and talking machines" and how they would destroy music.
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Filed Under: audio rights, authors guild, books, copyright, kindle, roy blount jr., text-to-speech


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  1. identicon
    bshock, 26 Feb 2009 @ 9:28am

    Sometimes the main point is less important

    Okay, so the main point in this discussion is that the Authors' Guild is fabricating copyright law in order to make its public complaints. Fine. I agree that this is stupid, illogical, and generally wrong.

    But an underlying point is far more important: copyright law is based on a fundamental misunderstanding, and so its very existence is inherently flawed. Granting a temporary monopoly to artists has not been shown to increase or improve available art in the current era (where leisure time for creating art is abundant, as opposed to previous eras where leisure time for creating art was rare).

    You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The current discussion sounds like everyone has assumed that you can, and is busy arguing about what the stitching should look like.

    Then too, there's the much narrower underlying point that invoking the name "Kindle" is promoting and prolongin a ridiculously bad product that needs to take its place on the dustbin of history as soon as possible.

    A dedicated electronic text reader would be a marginal product at best. The only thing the Kindle might do better than an ordinary book is redirect a little money to Amazon and its tin-horn Kindle cartel. That's hardly a market-driving innovation.

    However, I own thousands of text files (PDFs, CHMs, DOCs, TXTs, etc.) that I might want to read on such a device. Sometimes I want to read on a plane, sitting around in public, or on the toilet, and bringing a laptop to read my files would be cumbersome, and potentially expensive in terms of loss or breakage.

    The current version of the Kindle is effectively useless for these purposes. First, it actively discourages you from using your own files. (Though it can be done, with some time and effort.) Second, it is ridiculously expensive. ($399)

    This argument about the Authors' Guild is only serving to advertise a piece of technological garbage, and slow the pace at which the marketplace supplies something I can actually use, goddamnit.

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