There are many instances where text in whatever form is read or transformed into audio; Parents reading to children, teachers reading to students, reading groups sharing feelings, Jaws enabling the visually impaired to enjoy books. The recent announcement that the K2 has a feature to convert text to speech has certainly ignited a debate on the interpretation of audio. So when is book an audio book? When is alright to convert text to speech and when is it a breach of copyright?
We have previously written about the complexities of generating synthesised voice from text and although it is possible to achieve high quality it isn’t there today and there is a distinct difference between an actor or author rendition and a synthesised one.
The Author’s Guild has quite audibly suggested that Amazon’s use of text to speech may be a copyright violation. Are they right or wrong, or as many would scream, who cares? The objective of publishing is to publish, disseminate, spread the word and ensure due reference and royalty ensues.
Some would suggest that the Author’s Guild is afraid this new feature would cut into sales of audio books. Others would point out that Amazon owns the largest audio book seller Audible and so would be potentially cannibalising their own sales. Others again would argue that the feature would offer an audio option to many books that today don’t have one and frankly never will under the current audio production model. So logic would suggest that the feature and any subsequent refinement of it may well generate new audio revenues that are not currently enjoyed by many of the Guild’s membership.
In fact, it seems the stand of the Author’s Guild only serves to protect audio book publishers and increase litigation and lawyer’s revenues. Probably these may be the same lawyers who will profit from the Guild’s last stand, or as some would argue, capitulation to the other Gorillas – Google and the Book Search settlement. Well when you have taken one battle and think you have won perhaps the smell of the chase outstrips logic.
We hope Amazon.com will stand by their decision to include Text-to-speech features in the new Kindle.
Indeed there are important questions to be asked of text-to-speech, which the Kindle 2 poses: can a machine, acting essentially on its own, produce a copyright-infringing derivative work? Another way of asking the question would be: is it the unique provenance of human beings to infringe on another’s copyright?
I'd say "no," but I suspect the author's guild and its lawyers wouldn't agree.
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