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.