Right after Amazon announced the availability of Kindle 2 with Text to Speech (TTS) functionality, the Author’s Guild president Roy (the dinosaur) Blount Jr. wrote an article about it and claimed that this technology is a copyright infringement of audio books. For those who don’t know what Text to Speech (TTS) technology is: It is a technology that allows computers to read text aloud. Amazon incorporated the technology in Kindle 2 so you can switch from reading a book to listening. Although TTS technology has improved throughout the years, it is still very robotic sounding. It also lacks proper punctuation and tonality. It reads everything at a flat pace and voice.
So, does providing TTS functionality on a book you’ve purchased violate copyright law? Were you violating copyright law while you were reading a book you purchased to your children or to your spouse? For this perspective alone thinking that providing TTS functionality in Kindle 2 is a copyright infringement is absolutely ridiculous.
Once you purchase a product don’t you suppose to own all rights to your own copy? I mean I can burn a book I own, or use it as toilet paper, or resell it to someone else, and no one can stop me. It is my copy. I paid for it. I can do whatever the heck I pleased to do with it. But, how does this change when it comes to electronic media? If a media is available in electronic form, why can’t I do whatever I wanted to do with it? What is next? Is he going to complain about auto feed document scanners with Optical Character Recognition technology? Wait a second, can you really convert a printed book to a digital text!!! OMG. All scanner manufacturers are violating copyright law!
Roy (the dinosaur) Blount’s argument is simple. He claims that the audio book industry is a billion dollar industry and Kindle 2 might hurt that industry. That’s better of an argument compared to copyright infringement argument. However, I wonder how he comes up with an idea that a computer reading text would hurt audio book industry. I am a member of Audible, and my membership allows me to download two audio books every month for free. There is no way I would drop my membership of Audible just because a computer can read text to me in a monotone, lifeless electronic voice. Besides, has he done an analysis comparing how many people would buy both the printed and audio version of the same book? Normally we buy one or the other, not both. So what’s the big deal here? Per book basis the author is not going to lose any income. As far as the loyalties go, once I purchase a copy of a book, I already paid my dues to the author.
I think Roy (the dinosaur) Blount is greedy. He wants to get loyalties not only for the eBook version you’ve just purchased, but also for computer reading it to you using your purchased copy.
What did Amazon do about it? They budged. They announced that they are going to let authors choose if their book can be read by Kindle’s TTS engine or not.
Bottom line: Yet another dinosaur blocked the progress of technology, and good things it brings to consumers. Yes, consumers lose again.