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February 13, 2009

Muzzle Your Kindles



The aptly named Kindle 2 was released a few days ago, and alongside its slim physique and 3G download speeds is a new “experimental feature? that reads text aloud with a synthesized voice. Paul Aiken, executive director of THE Authors Guild (which you must pronounce as John Lovitz’s “Master Thespian? character), being the quick-minded individual that he is took this opportunity to remind us all that - when used - this feature would produce actual sound waves from the device that resemble the sounds made by a person reading the letters and words on the screen!

"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." - Wall Street Journal

In case you were wondering, here’s the copyright law that pertains to his argument (Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 106). 



Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;

(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;

(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;

(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and

(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.


With attention toward number 6, what Paul is confusing here is the difference between what we’ll just call “reading? and recording. By “reading? I refer to the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech software, and in this case any audio produced by the Kindle 2 is a consequence of this software being able to translate letters and letter groupings into sound, it is the consequence of a complex audio synthesis. There is no recording. There is no derivative work.

But I can see the worry here - the implicit threat to the audiobook industry, but I truly believe that threat to be minimal. Have you ever heard a computer speak? Would you want to listen to Bruce or Fred or Vicki or Victoria read you Twilight for 13 hours? Even our best audio synthesis programs are no match for the David Sedaris and Steve Martins of the world.

Now, if you don’t mind I have some reading to do. I’ll try to keep it down.

CCriticism

What’s the difference between these two articles?

She puts them down, side by side, and examines them. By all accounts these are our regular everyday journal articles. They’re both written in English, they’re both academic in tone, they’re both saying similar things. But what of these differences? The bright green Creative Commons banner gives it away. It’s that oft-overlooked permit of authority – the license. One article has a Creative Commons license – you are free to share, you are free to remix. The other is branded with a copyright – this is property of Publisher XYZ, all rights reserved, not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

What’s the difference between these two articles?

She looks at the two articles again, this time putting one on top of the other as she ponders their newly minted character. “I guess it feels less like I’m being lectured, and more like I’m being invited to participate in a conversation with the author,? she says, gently lifting the article with the Creative Common license. Her tone is optimistic. “I think I’d be more inclined to comment on an article that I have permission to tweak; the other article feels too static, it feels too rigid, like a granite slab.?

So what’s the difference?

This woman has no real interest in the issue of copyright, nor has she ever heard of a Creative Commons license, yet she’s very intently seized this idea that the Creative Commons license affords her far greater intellectual involvement, and she’s eager to take advantage. There is this impression that a license that allows remixing and repurposing lets loose this pent-up dialogue between her and the author that was previously set aside by the traditionally monologic practice of authorship. It lets loose the possibility for this previously unheard commentary. This previously impossible commentary.

She seems relieved.