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Authors Guild Silent Over iBooks Text-To-Speech 187

Posted by Soulskill
from the selective-interest dept.
Last year we discussed news that the Authors Guild took issue with the Kindle's text-to-speech function, claiming it was illegal for the device to read their books aloud. Amazon disagreed, but said they were willing to disable the feature upon request from rightsholders. Now, jamie notes a recent article by David Pogue at the NY Times in which he points out that Apple's free iBooks app does the same thing, yet the Authors Guild has remained silent. Quoting: "... Now swipe down the page with two fingers to make the iPhone start reading the book to you, out loud, with a synthesized voice. It even turns the pages automatically and keeps going until you tap with two fingers to stop it. Yes, this is exactly the feature that debuted in the Amazon Kindle and was then removed when publishers screamed bloody murder. But somehow, so far, Apple has gotten away with it, maybe because nobody's even realized this feature is in there." That said, the feature was certainly noticed during the launch of the iPad, so perhaps the Authors Guild has other reasons for holding their peace.
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Authors Guild Silent Over iBooks Text-To-Speech

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  • so apple does not like blind people?

    • No, apple LOVES blind people, but the Author's guild may not love them as much

      • No, apple LOVES blind people, but the Author's guild may not love them as much

        I wonder if the Author's Guild can be pursued under any sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. If a blind person needs a book to do their job or to learn in school and this book is unavailable in any spoken text version, if the Author's Guild has blocked access to the only means the blind person has of reading that book... it could be interesting.

  • What's the problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mark72005 (1233572) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:04PM (#33344588)
    How does this hurt them on books where there is no audio version available?
    • by savanik (1090193) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:11PM (#33344716)

      Because of poorly written contracts. Most current contracts don't have a distinction between 'audiobook' and 'text-to-speech conversion'. If the authors don't defend their copyright on the text-to-speech conversion, it can be legally argued that they don't mind if the publisher has rights to produce audiobooks - or that they actually sold the right to the publisher in the first place, even if it wasn't explicitly stated in the contract. Considering that we're typically talking about significant amounts of money, that an author may have to live on for the next few years while they write their next work... yeah, it can hurt them, because the original contracts didn't take future technology into account.

      • by PCM2 (4486) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:43PM (#33345236) Homepage

        I'm not sure that's the issue. An author is under no obligation to defend a copyright or risk losing it, the way he might be obliged to defend a trademark or risk losing it. He can sue for copyright infringement today, tomorrow, or 50 years from now (under the current regime).

        I think the debate is more about whether a text-to-speech process actually produces a derivative work. Authors have argued in the past that it does. But one could also argue that a computer reproducing a work via text-to-speech is no different than reproducing it by displaying its text on a screen -- and therefore it does not violate copyright.

        Authors, on the other hand, don't want to lose the ability to sell audiobook editions because devices exist that can read books aloud automatically. Audiobook sales account for a large amount of royalties.

        • by DarthVain (724186) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:28PM (#33345870)

          Or....

          Have you bought an audio book lately? Most the ones I have seen cost a lot more than a paper back book.

          If I have the ability to buy a 10$ paper back book and have it read to me, why the hell would I buy the 40$ audio book?

          Another example of industry not keeping up with technology and trying to use the courts and copyright laws to enforce their business model.

          This is about greed, pure and simple. Considering the type of people that most buy audio books (blind and/or old people) I find it kind of despicable.

          Before paying what you paid for a service you could really only get one way it was hard to feel bad about the premium. Now that it is available more readily for cheaper and for all titles, and they want to force you to still pay more for the privilege? Sick.

          • by Confusador (1783468) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:54PM (#33346206)

            If I have the ability to buy a 10$ paper back book and have it read to me, why the hell would I buy the 40$ audio book?

            Have you listened to a audio book read by a person compared to the same work done by a computer? The person doesn't even have to be very good to win that battle. It's an interesting conversation in light of the potential of future tech, and to be sure it's getting better, but there's a long way to go before professional book readers will be looking for work.

            • by DarthVain (724186)

              I would agree totally. However who should make that choice, the customer, or the lawyers?

              • by DarthVain (724186)

                Capitalism doesn't solve everything, but when you take choice away from the consumer, it solves nothing.

                That is where things fall down. That is the current plight of all our woes in all our shared economies. All things being equal it works, problem is, rarely are things even remotely equal.

                If audio books provide a service I want, and I am willing to pay that price, then I buy that product. If I am willing to settle for a lower price, and perhaps lesser quality for text to speech then I will pay that price.

                W

            • Have you listened to a audio book read by a person compared to the same work done by a computer? The person doesn't even have to be very good to win that battle.

              It depends what your criteria are. It takes a freeking eon to listen to an audio book because it's read at a normal or below normal speaking pace, which is much slower than a reading pace. When people use screen readers they typically crank up the speed to the highest speed they can still understand the given content at. That means you don't have to listen for 12 hours or more for your average book. Most devices that can play audio books still don't have easy features for speeding them up, so text to speech

          • by xaxa (988988)

            I haven't used any of the text-to-speech applications, but I assume a voice actor would do a much better job. That might or might not be worth $30 to you.

          • by cgenman (325138) on Monday August 23, 2010 @04:12PM (#33346436) Homepage

            To be fair, audiobooks do involve a degree of work. Most audiobooks are abridged, so you need to edit the book and get the edits approved by the author. You need to hire a celebrity reader. You need to rent a studio to record the reading in, with an audio person present to make sure everything is warm and punchy. A producer needs to edit everything together. None of that is cheap. And all of that is chasing a niche within a niche.

            Of course, text-to-speech is basically free. And means the old audiobook process is obsolete for most titles. But charging more for the audiobook version makes sense.

            • by whoever57 (658626)

              You need to hire a celebrity reader.

              There is no need to hire a celebrity reader. I assume publishers do this in order to maximise profits and justify the vastly increased price of the audiobook.

              • by cgenman (325138)

                If you're not going celebrity, you need to at least go VAG. And VAG work ain't cheap.

          • by ISoldat53 (977164)
            All good performers of audiobooks bring a very different experience to the work. The person reading an audiobook makes all the difference in the world. Jim Dale helped make the Rowling books. Having the right person read the book is important too. Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series was brought to life by Patrick Tull's reading. I can not picture anyone else doing justice to the series. Terry Pratchett's works are made by Stephen Briggs' performance. After hearing these readings, I could not stand to have
            • by DarthVain (724186) on Monday August 23, 2010 @04:51PM (#33346982)

              Your kidding right?

              I was about to argue that shouldn't the customer have the right to make decisions about what they are willing to pay for? I mean it might not be as nice as a professional reader, but I might say I am willing to buy it because it is half the cost...

              then... "should have a say in how a work is performed"

              Your seriously telling me that the Author of a work has the RIGHT to tell ME how I READ his book?

              I am pretty sure if I want to read it backwards, upside down, in Klingon, to my best friend, I have the right to do so. If I wish to have a computer synthesize voice for me, I think I have that right too.

              Don't get me wrong, if it is going to be distributed in voice, or film or something, then sure. But I have the right to do what I want with it after I buy it so long as I don't copy it and claim it as my own or try to sell copies. Gah!

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            If I have the ability to buy a 10$ paper back book and have it read to me, why the hell would I buy the 40$ audio book?

            Yeah, and what's the point of paying £50 for a theatre ticket to see a professional production, when me and my friends can buy a copy of the text for £5 and act it out in our garden shed for free?

            Clue: audio books aren't just read out by computerised voices, there are actors involved who, gasp, want to be paid for their work.

        • I think the debate is more about whether a text-to-speech process actually produces a derivative work. Authors have argued in the past that it does.

          It's a stupid argument though. Reading a book to your kids does not constitute the creation of a derivative work. There might be a point if you read a book into an audio recording device and then gave the recording to your kids to playback at their leisure, but in the absence of that there is no "work" being produced by a human or computer other than ephemeral audio waves.

      • by kimvette (919543)

        I think you're confusing Trademark Law with Copyright Law.

      • by icebike (68054)

        If the authors don't defend their copyright on the text-to-speech conversion,

        It is not yet clear that text to speech copyright exists.
        It is not at set in law that reading aloud from a book is a performance, and therefore separately licensable.

        A machine reading a book to the owner is not a performance (no fee charged, no money earned) and therefore there is no basis for authors or publishers to claim a copyright.

        Authors made a big noise, but they had no legal leg to stand on and Amazon was busy at the time fighting other (pricing) battles. If course its Apple, the darling of the "c

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mapkinase (958129)

      It hurts them emotionally

    • by dissy (172727)

      How does this hurt them on books where there is no audio version available?

      It hurts them a lot. The authors only made money three or four times for the work they did once, and this read it out loud feature is preventing them from being paid yet again for the same work done long ago.

      Apologies in advance for the flame, and even more so to the authors who disagree with the guild and I unfairly lump in with them...

      But the fact they offer no product to compete with it is beside the point. Authors in the guild have stated time and time again that it is their god given right to control

  • by BobMcD (601576) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:04PM (#33344592)

    Maybe the difference is that Amazon is seen as more of a threat than Apple?

    Not being rhetorical here, I'm genuinely asking.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bodero (136806)

      With a statement like that, you'd almost expect Amazon to be selling eBooks at a 60-to-1 ratio [boygeniusreport.com] compared to rival Apple.

    • by Brandee07 (964634) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:23PM (#33344934)

      I'd think it's because Apple is a scarier target. They were able to bully Amazon, but Apple has a top-notch legal team and a demonstrated disinclination to budge when pressures like this are applied.

    • by Kitkoan (1719118)
      Mostly likely it is that Apple is more of a threat then Amazon. At the moment if they leave it alone they can let it sit in legal limbo and allow themselves to build up the case then push forward (something they might have learned from Amazon) and try to make it illegal in the future. If they went for the legal attack now and lose to Apple they run the risk of the law stating that this is a legally acceptable option and would allow all future devices to allow for this. So waiting would more or less be a goo
      • How the hell can they expect to make generic screen readers illegal? These generic screen readers should be able to read anything on the screen too via OCR, even if they're not legally allowed to read directly via the file format.

        Damnit, the crazy reachings of rich entities facing the extinction of their outdated business models are so frustrating.

        • by Kitkoan (1719118)
          How can they expect to make screen readers illegal? Simple, the TOS of the ebook state that its for non-audio purposes only.
        • by dissy (172727)

          These generic screen readers should be able to read anything on the screen too via OCR, even if they're not legally allowed to read directly via the file format.

          Actually the DMCA provides an exemption specifically for DRM formats that block screen readers, in that those forms of DRM are NOT covered under the DMCA, so are fully legal to crack for that purpose.

  • by Cheech Wizard (698728) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:05PM (#33344610)
    Maybe the Authors Guild has learned a lesson in how not to be pricks.
    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:07PM (#33344640) Journal

      I find that an unlikely explanation. It's more likely that there's something going on between the Guild and Apple.

      • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:34PM (#33345114)

        It's more likely that there's something going on between the Guild and Apple.

        Unlike Amazon, Apple stays out of the Guild's way. One Infinite Loop is crawling with Strangers. Who do you think arranged their contract with Foxconn? You think all those "suicides" were from worker stress? Keep dreaming. Guild work is clean, professional. It's surgical with them. In a way they're the only organization Steve Jobs still respects. And they don't get dames get in the way!

        .

      • by truthsearch (249536) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:52PM (#33345356) Homepage Journal

        I doubt the Guild has any special relationship with Apple. Unlike the MPAA and the RIAA, the Guild works directly on behalf of content creators who make up their membership. If the members don't make a fuss the Guild won't make a fuss. My guess is publishers, and therefore authors, are getting better terms from Apple since they're the underdog in e-books. With better compensation, publishers and authors aren't complaining.

      • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:02PM (#33345502) Journal

        Amazon did not negotiate audio rights for the book when they set up their contracts. They got into trouble because of it and disabled the feature until the could negotiate the audio rights. Apple saw this and, when they negotiated their contracts, made sure that they had the audio rights for all books in the iBook Store.

        Apple, as the e-book follower, learned about this problem in advance from Amazon's leadership in the market and had the contracts set up to allow audio. There's no big conspiracy here.

        • by Smauler (915644)

          To be honest... this is only affecting a very small proportion of the population. It's not a big conspiracy, but it is symptomatic of IP protection nowadays. The original rights holders are aiming to profit off of a tiny segment of the market, which will provide little to no profit in actuality - they know this. The amount of money involved here will be very small.

          The problem is that authors and companies now seek absolute control over all their works, and this was not the case (as much) in the past. T

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Gadget_Guy (627405) *

          That sounds great, but is it true. No disrespect, but I have read too many scenarios like this around here only to find that they are just complete guesswork on the part of the writer and have nothing to do with reality.

          So how do you know that Apple has negotiated audio rights for their works?

          • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Monday August 23, 2010 @05:52PM (#33347808) Journal

            So how do you know that Apple has negotiated audio rights for their works?

            I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

            Seriously, I don't know. It's guesswork. But it's based on Apple's track record.

            First, Apple negotiated with the music companies to make sure that their customers could use their music in iMovie and iDVD. Second, Apple negotiated ring-tones with the music industry. Third, Apple encrypted music going to their Airport Express in order to protect the music companies. Fourth, Apple licensed Amazon's "One-Click" patent.

            Apple has shown itself more than willing to license and protect the IP of it's Apple Store providers. So it would make sense that Apple would have considered this angle and made certain that, when they negotiated with the rights-holders, they had the right to play audio.

            I mean, it makes no sense for the Author's Guild to castigate Amazon yet remain silent in regard to Apple. Since anything Apple immediately hits the airwaves, you would think it would be just the opposite. So if they're staying silent, it probably means that they have an agreement with Apple. It may be an Apple imposed one--"You want to be in the iBook Store, you have to give us audio rights"--but it's an agreement.

            Remember the issue with Amazon was that Amazon was creating audio versions of books without having negotiated the right to do so, unlike companies like Audible.com. It wasn't that the Author's Guild was against this kind of software, just that they wanted to be compensated for it. Whether they deserved to be compensated or not is debatable, no doubt. But Apple won't bother with those kinds of arguments--they'll just give them some money no matter how ridiculous it is (see ring tones).

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Adrian Lopez (2615)

              Seriously, I don't know. It's guesswork.

              In that case, it's worthless. A different guess, and no less reasonable, is that Apple has decided the iPad's TTS feature is no different than Acrobat Reader's "Read Out Loud" feature or the TTS software that ships with Windows. Do authors get to sue Adobe or Microsoft just because Acrobat Reader and Windows can read out loud any text the computer can recognize? If not, why is Apple any different?

        • Amazon did not negotiate audio rights for the book when they set up their contracts.

          They had no need to do so as they were not reproducing audio copies. Having a book read out loud to you, whether by a person or a machine, does not impinge upon the exclusive rights of the copyright owner.

      • by MoonBuggy (611105)

        Perhaps, but then maybe the Authors Guild learned the meaning of the Streisand effect from going up against Amazon, and they're a bit more hesitant this time around. They may have 'won', but was the bad publicity worth it?

        It's quite conceivable (although demonstrative of naivety on the Guild's part) that they thought nobody would care about a corporate dispute over copyright interpretation, or even that they were absolutely in the right and most people would side with them. Seeing the backlash from sites li

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:06PM (#33344616) Homepage Journal

    Since last year the LOC has made a rule [copyright.gov] that DRM breaks are legal if readers are shut out:

    (6) Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book's read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.

    • Note that this means it is legal to distribute software that includes circumvention technology if the primary purpose of the software is reading aloud.

  • by Moridineas (213502) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:07PM (#33344648) Journal

    FWIW, I had no idea the feature was there. The annoying thing is that you have to turn on Voice Over in the accessibility settings...for the entire phone. So the whole interface of the phone changes (you have to double tap buttons, etc) and it's quite annoying to have it on if it's not something you need. I guess you can turn voiceover on/off at will, but it's a decent amount of hassle.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by wygit (696674)

      You can go into settings -> General -> Accessability -> Triple-click Home and set it to "Toggle VoiceOver".

      So you're reading the book, you tripleclick the home button, swipe down with two fingers and it starts reading to you. Tap with two fingers to pause the reader. tripleclick home again to turn off VoiceOver.

      Not something I'll probably ever use, but it works.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Gadget_Guy (627405) *

        So you're reading the book, you tripleclick the home button, swipe down with two fingers and it starts reading to you. Tap with two fingers to pause the reader. tripleclick home again to turn off VoiceOver.

        Another great example of the ease of use of the iPhone. I can never understand why people keep claiming that it is user friendly when there are so many examples of these hidden features. The only saving grace in this case is that this is an obscure feature that few people will need to use.

    • by fermion (181285)
      The bottom line is no one is going to impair the usability of the iOS just to get it to read the book for them. It is a mutistep process to get the book read instead of automagic think on the Kindle. On the Apple it is clearly an integrated accessibility issue, not a way to kill the audio book.

      On the Kindle the Author guild can frame their argument as one of licensing since the voice over feature was promoted as a standalone feature for general use, which could of some use to those who had impaired visi

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by John Hasler (414242)

        On the Kindle the Author guild can frame their argument as one of licensing since the voice over feature was promoted as a standalone feature for general use...

        No they can't. Reading aloud is not one of the exclusive rights of copyright owners.

  • by cosm (1072588) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .3msoceht.> on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:08PM (#33344662)
    The douchers that are hamstringing the text-to-speech providers need to be bitch-slapped, twice.
  • by Kurofuneparry (1360993) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:24PM (#33344956)

    Hate on Apple for having the feature while Amazon can't/doesn't or hate on litigious media groups for selective lawsuits?

    Two very touchy topics in the /. world!

    Me? Oh, I don't discriminate.... I hate everyone! Then again... I'm an idiot ....

  • Who knew? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Who knew pissing off disabled folks (like me) wasn't a good idea to drive up business? All they accomplished with their little tantrum was to ensure that any books I buy in the future will be from the used market, to avoid supporting them.

    We do seriously live in a society where (if everything could be magically made accessible tomorrow for free), some predatory capitalist goons would still try and charge us disabled folks $1500 for equal access... all the wile claiming to support the rights of disabled folk

    • by Smauler (915644)

      Who the fuck modded parent down? Seriously... this is very relevant and relatively pertinent. I've not complained about modding before, but you've got to be kidding me.

  • Writers love Apple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sarusa (104047) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:29PM (#33345046)

    Yes, I know there are still a few iconclasts who use Windows (or TeX for the hardcore) but all the published authors I personally know are Apple fanboys. MBPs, Mac Pros (for writing? I know, I know), iPhones, the works. I imagine they don't want to bite the hand that pets them... But I'll ask one why it's okay for Apple and not Amazon.

  • by joabj (91819) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:32PM (#33345076) Homepage

    Also, fwiw, Amazon owns Audible, the largest purveyor of spoken word books (or "books on tape" as they used to be called)...

  • I recall it boiled to down to significant "grey-area" books they were copyrightable (within the 120-year window) but no author or estate claimed the right anymore. Should Google be able to make money charging ads for page views of these books or should the publisher? The massive Google libraries digitization captured many of these grey-area books.
    I suspect talking ebooks will take at least a decade to work out also.
  • Anecdotal evidence from at least one author doing self publishing puts the Kindle selling 60x more than Apple's ibook: [blogspot.com]

    Publishers might be looking at enriched or enhanced ebooks as their new big-ticket items to replace hardcovers. But the major ebook retailer, Amazon, isn't set up for video. Kindle isn't even able to do color yet. That leaves Apple, and according to my numbers Apple is a very small part of the ebook market. I sell 200 ebooks a day on Kindle. On iPad, I sell 100 a month.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Monday August 23, 2010 @02:50PM (#33345330) Homepage
    They had no business bring suit and I hope they have realized it. There is a difference between a copy of a book in a different format and a program that translates something into a different format. Is the rights holder of a German version of Harry Potter going to sue someone that writes a computer program that translates English into German? No of course not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      They had no business bring suit and I hope they have realized it. There is a difference between a copy of a book in a different format and a program that translates something into a different format.

      But we aren't talking about software that creates a copy in a different format or language. This is software that reads the book out loud to you. No copy is created and none of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner are infringed. The very notion that they could have a claim here is laughable.

  • by sharkey (16670) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:17PM (#33345700)
    My kindergartner is being exposed to this sort of copyright infringement EVERY DAY! Not only is there text-to-speech conversion at school (the teacher, who should be providing a better example) but they expect ME to convert text-to-speech at home and READ ALOUD to my kids! When will someone put a stop to this nefarious reading of books aloud?
  • Removed? (Score:3, Informative)

    by R.Mo_Robert (737913) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:28PM (#33345872)

    feature that debuted in the Amazon Kindle and was then removed

    No, it wasn't. It was disabled on select books if and only if the publisher specificially demanded it.

  • by n5yat (987446) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:44PM (#33346100)
    Just for fun I enabled the text-to-speech on my iPad. It's so bad, it's laughable. The guild has nothing to worry about because only someone desperate would use that sucky text-to-speech instead of a good audio book.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I don't get why text to speech is so bad. Has anyone made a reader that, rather than trying to pronounce text, just uses a database of prerecorded words? A single-word wav file takes about 7k. There are roughly 200,000 words in the English language. That works out to 1.4 gigs. Doesn't seem like it would be that hard, although you'd probably have to pay Sean Connery a lot to pronounce the whole dictionary. So hire a few Connery imitators, who can't do a passable Connery?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pregister (443318)

        Honestly, it wouldn't be much better than current text-to-speech. The problem isn't the computer voice...sure, its cheesy but I could get used to that. The problem is everything else. The phrasing, the intonation, the flow of the words. These are things that make TTS laughable. A database of some voice actor reading every word in the language wouldn't help this at all.

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