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22 Feb 2009
Amazon recently released a new version of their popular Kindle e-book device. One of the improvements is that it includes text-to-speech software that can read an e-book aloud in a robotic voice. The Authors Guild, the main trade association of book authors, immediately claimed infringes the author's copyright, by making an audiobook version of the book it's reading aloud. That's ridiculous.
I've belonged to the Guild for many years, and although they do many great things for their members, their leadership is a bunch of incredible Luddites who tend to see every technical advance as a plot to cheat us members out of our royalties. (Their reaction to a photocopier that could turn pages of originals gave one the impression that a giant asteroid was on its way to end life on Earth as we know it.)
The legal issues have been explored elsewhere, and it seems pretty clear to me that there's nothing new here legally that isn't in the voice software shipped with every version of Windows. Having done both a commercial audiobook and simple reading for Recording for the Blind, I can confirm that there is a whole lot of difference between a robot reading the words and a real audiobook. The Guild claims in their press release that they're not opposed to technology to aid the blind, but that's equally ridiculous, since mechanical reading software has been the key technology for blind computer users for decades.
What I really wish is that the Guild's leadership would make at least a token effort to consult its membership before launching its legal initiatives. Some of them like this one, are just silly and embarassing, but some of the others, most notably extending the term of copyright protection, are actively bad for most of the members.
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