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Authors Guild President Wants To End Royalty-Free TTS On Kindle 539

An anonymous reader writes "The president of the Authors Guild has launched a rant in the NY Times about how the Kindle 2 provides Text-to-Speech capabilities that, oh the horror, allow the user to have any text on the Kindle read to her. Roy Blunt, Jr. moans that this is copyright infringement of audio books, and that Kindle users should be forced to pay royalties on audio even though they've already paid for the text version of a book! Amazingly he harps on about how TTS technology has become so good that it may replace humans — and then uses this to argue that it's unfair for Kindle to provide TTS! I think the Authors Guild need a new president — someone less of a Luddite, and more familiar with copyright law." (See also the Guild's executive director's similar claims that reading aloud, royalty-free, is an illegal function of software.)
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Authors Guild President Wants To End Royalty-Free TTS On Kindle

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  • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:37PM (#26985395)

    I'm sure the record labels pay much better for nutty speech than a bunch of writers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Moryath ( 553296 )

      No kidding.

      Non-infringing use #1 I can think of: setting this thing to play in the car like a normal audiobook. I have a few other "audiobooks" loaded to my ipod that are the result of running scanned or otherwise digital copies through text-to-speech software and it works well enough when there is no alternative (e.g. no professional audiobook) available. I'd love to be able to get some more favorites/classics for times when I can't sit to "read" but can listen perfectly well.

      It almost sounds like this ass

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I don't know how anyone can enjoy a book by listening to it. How do you reread exceptional passages, or flip back to review past pages, or put up with the sloowww rate of speech? Also I find it very difficult to follow an argument without it in writing. The only time I would consider an audio book is a dialogue-based third-person-limited narrative, since dialogue actually does work well out loud and the feel of the book is only captured by putting yourself into the forward-rushing subjective shoes of the ma
    • by Gerzel ( 240421 ) * <(moc.liamg) (ta) (terrefyllorb)> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @05:39PM (#26987475) Journal

      Try reading the article before you judge. After reading I am more suspect that these posts are being put up by those who are more pro-Amazon looking for a sympathetic crowd.

      Mr. Blunt is NOT ranting. He actually does put forth a good argument that authors should be paid for the audio rights for their books if an audio production is being sold by a third party.

      There ALREADY are legal exceptions for the blind to produce and distribute free audio versions of texts, and btw the kindle uses on-screen controls that no blind person could operate in order to access the audio functions, currently.

      Amazon is indeed advertising these products as an audio book(the rights of which are worth far more currently than the rights for an e-book) and an e-book in one w/o paying for the rights to sell an audio book.

      The audio functions of the books are coming closer to human levels and are being marketed and sold as such.

      Remember while copyright laws have been abused and in many cases are abusive and extreme in their extent; still, for every exec and RIAA stooge getting paid hand over fist there are ten creative writers and authors who make an honest living using those laws as well.

      Fight the abuse and the abusers, not the people who are using Copyright as it was intended, which still despite what you might hear is the vast majority of copyright users and creative workers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Big Boss ( 7354 )

        So all Amazon really has to do is change the advertising. Stop calling them audiobooks and call them what they are, e-books. Then make a bigger deal of the TTS on the Kindle. There, now they aren't "selling" an audiobook. They are selling an e-book on a device that happens to be able to read it to you via audio.

        It's a text file with DRM, it's not like a normal audiobook where you have to pay someone to read it and for recording time in a studio. It doesn't deserve the same pricing as an audiobook, regardles

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Speaking as someone who is visually impaired and not totally blind, a device like Kindle is not only usable but also much nicer than some of the other book reader options available, having seen the interface I can easily see myself using such a feature as an option.

        But back to the point at hand!

        I see where his argument comes from, but this goes well beyond the era of audio books when the real consumers were people like me (or people who didn't like actually reading I suppose). We're in a new era where an e-

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jonbryce ( 703250 )

          Look at Adobe vs Sklyarov & Elcomsoft back in 2001.

          Adobe tried to prosecute for creating software that enabled blind people to read e-books. The jury chose to exercise their constitutional right to find them not guilty.

      • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:41PM (#26992319) Homepage Journal

        Mr. Blunt is NOT ranting. He actually does put forth a good argument that authors should be paid for the audio rights for their books if an audio production is being sold by a third party.

        I'm sorry, but I don't buy that argument.

        From where I sit, it just sounds like the Author's Guild is pissed that someone invented--or more offensively, sold--a technology that undermines one of their revenue streams. That's life, that's business, that's capitalism. Deal with it. The correct response isn't to bring your sob story to the public and politicians and hope that they pity you enough to prop up your outmoded business model for a few extra years. The correct response is to adjust your way of doing business such that both you and your customers benefit from this new technology.

        I guess that's too much to ask for today's businesses?

  • by avalys ( 221114 ) * on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:39PM (#26985417)

    What an idiot - doesn't he realize how wonderful it is that technology makes it possible for us to avoid paying the authors we like as much money as we used to?

    • if only i had mod points

    • Yeah. Authors generally make SOOOO much money. Many authors I know make more than enough money to pay for groceries, with a little bit leftover to get new socks!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )

        and it isn't those authors funding this.

        it's the jk rowling's.

        jk rowling gets rich, lots of other writers starve because she is getting too much of the pie.

        books should be much cheaper than they are. current prices are based on costs that no longer exist.

        there are a million other forms of entertainment they compete with that did not used to exist.

        Hmmm $8 for a paperback, or $8 for a DVD of a movie, or $24 for a video game that plays 20 books worth of time, or ...

        Books are way overpriced now. My solution i

        • Re:What an idiot (Score:4, Insightful)

          by EtherMonkey ( 705611 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @06:20PM (#26988441)

          Hmmm $8 for a paperback, or $8 for a DVD of a movie, or $24 for a video game that plays 20 books worth of time, or ... Books are way overpriced now. My solution is mostly the same as for music- I just stopped buying them. If they were $4, I would probably buy them.

          First of all, please tell me where you live because I'm paying up to $10 for a paperback and a minimum of $15 for a DVD and $50 for a video game.

          I have to agree with your solution. As prices have gone up I've cut back on my spending because I generally feel the product isn't worth the cost. The result is that I spend LESS money now on entertainment than I did 20 years ago, not even factoring in inflation.

          Remember when movies were $4.50 and you could get popcorn and a soda for $5.00? I used to take my kids to the theater every week. 4 x$ 9.5 x 52 = $1976

          Now tickets are $10.50 and popcorn and a soda are another $10+. So now we go to the movies once a month, get a soda and sneak-in our own snacks. 4 x 15.50 x 12 = $744.

          Who's the loser? The movie theaters, studios and MPAA. At $62 per movie -- assuming we sneak-in snacks -- I'm a lot more selective about what movies we go see. Honestly, there aren't 12 movies released each year that are worth that much to me. But when it only cost about $30 to take the family to the movies, you didn't mind when the many of the movies were bombs.

          Ditto for books. I used to read a book a week when they were under $5. Now I buy maybe 12 books a year at an average price of $9.00 and trade with people at work and in my neighborhood.

          And video games. Used to be I'd buy new games the week they were released. But at $80 each for the newest titles that can be finished in a week unless you pay EXTRA for on-line gaming, I've cut down to just a few games a year.

          The problem I see with the Entertainment industry is they literally want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to keep on increasing the size of their slice of the pie while selling more pieces of more pies at the same time.

    • Re:What an idiot (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arcmay ( 253138 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @04:00PM (#26985791)

      I'd argue the Kindle will make more money for authors because of an inability to sell e-books secondhand. If the secondhand book market is larger than the audiobook market, the author's guild is coming out ahead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by javilon ( 99157 )

      I think what he is really scared off is that TTS will become so good that one day will replace writers.

      He wants to stop it now!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      We don't pay authors, we pay publishers. Publishers pay the authors.

  • This nicely illustrates a subtle trap that copyright law has fallen into. By being a 'bundle of rights' it has encouraged an approach of ever finer division of intellectual works and their uses. An infinite series of new markets to be exploited - that's the legacy of the 'long tail.' I look forward to serving our new 'reading on saturday morning in bed' licence-owning overlords!
  • Pirates! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cgenman ( 325138 )

    Does this mean screen readers are copyright violation machines? Damn those freeloading blind people!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

      Indeed. President of the Authors Guild, meet the Americans with Disabilities Act.

      • Indeed they have already met:

        In fact, publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability.

    • by drerwk ( 695572 )
      +5 for not reading his rant:

      In fact, publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability.

    • by krog ( 25663 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:56PM (#26985713) Homepage

      It's us sighted people who are expected to bend over the barrel.

      I hope he's comfortable with the fact that he just lost the goodwill of a few hundred thousand geeks (who are among the heaviest readers). Good luck with that, champ.

  • by qbzzt ( 11136 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:39PM (#26985431)

    People who head advocacy organizations, such as the Authors Guild, have to have issues they can push so as to get members of their groups to pay dues. If there are no real issues, they need to invent them.

    • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @04:08PM (#26985923)

      You're right that the Authors Guild relies on members. Which is precisely why, if you disagree with the statements of the Guild, you should put pressure on authors, either by boycotting any author who is a member of the Guild, or writing to them and asking them to signal their disapproval.

      When the Authors Guild says these kinds of ridiculous things (and uses logic which, incidentally, implies that people with disabilities should not be allowed to convert media to a form they can use), it makes all members look like greedy idiots. Authors should speak up and tell the Guild that they do not want to be represented as such.

      For a partial list of Guild members, see:

      http://www.authorsguild.org/news/member_websites/a.html [authorsguild.org]

      Contacting the Guild and mentioning that you plan to boycott authors associated with them might also get the message across.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Krater76 ( 810350 )

      People who head advocacy organizations, such as the Authors Guild, have to have issues they can push so as to get members of their groups to pay dues. If there are no real issues, they need to invent them.

      This is more true then people realize.

      Case in point: the city where I grew up is an industrial mill town where almost everyone is union. At some point in the late 70s/early 80s a union for barbers came through and unionized all the barbers there. And of course you pretty much had to join because the other union workers wouldn't go to a non-union barber shop. They were advocating for better pay, working conditions, etc. It sounded great to all those involved.

      So what could possibly go wrong? Well for

  • I own one (Score:5, Informative)

    by blueforce ( 192332 ) <clannagael@gmaiPARISl.com minus city> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:40PM (#26985449) Homepage Journal

    I got my Kindle 2.0 from the UPS driver yesterday.

    I tried out this frightful technology and I can tell you - it sounds very much like Stephen Hawking reading to me.

    If by "replace humans" he means Stephen Hawking doing book readings at the local Borders well then, yes, maybe he's right.

    On the _other_ hand, I'd like my books read to me... "Once more, with feeling" (you dirty grubs).

  • How does the kindle TTS compare to say AT&T natural voice, or RealSpeak TTS engine. ...I still think it's much ado about nothing, but if the quality is indistinguishable from a human voice (which I doubt) then their argument might not be quite so feeble.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Irrelevant. It doesn't matter how good the voice is. If I have the right to hire someone to read a book to me (and I do), then I have the right to hire someone to make a device that reads the book to me.

  • Bed time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by YayaY ( 837729 )

    Is reading a bed time story to its children copyright infringement? This world is really crazy.

  • by blueforce ( 192332 ) <clannagael@gmaiPARISl.com minus city> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:42PM (#26985489) Homepage Journal

    The NYT is available on the Kindle. I wonder how many people are using TTS to listen to his rant. I know funny, and that's funny.

  • You see them all the time on the (short) bus. They like to read, but they always re aloud to themselves. I wonder if the author's guild is going to jail a bunch of those kids. That'll make some GREAT TV.


    Or afternoon reading sessions at libraries...

    Volunteer book reader: "OK Kids - today we're going to read one of my favourites... Ready? OK! It goes like this...

    One fish
    Two fish
    Red fish
    blue fish..."

    (BLAMMO!!!! - the door is blasted off

  • Where's the loss? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:49PM (#26985575) Journal

    While the audio-book business may be a billion dollar industry, how many people buy BOTH the print and audio versions of a book? I'm guessing the answer is "not very many".

    When buying an e-book for the Kindle, the author and publishers both get their royalties. With what I am assuming to be a negligible amount of people purchasing BOTH, there really isn't a lot of lost royalty rights from non-e double-dipping. The people that might have a beef are the voice actors that are hired to read for audio books. THEY are in serious danger of being replaced by technology. Well, that's progress. Go commiserate with the slide-rule and buggy whip unions.

    Having an artificial voice read an e-book really doesn't cut into any publisher or author profits. Instead of revenues shifting solely from paper books to e-books, there is also some shift from audio books to e-books. But the sum total shifting is still the same.

    What it sounds like is the Author's Guild saw dollar signs in the potential to get paid twice for the same thing and doesn't like it that the rest of the world doesn't agree with them, hence the temper tantrum.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by salemnic ( 244944 )

      I do. I've purchased about a dozen books in both electronic or dead tree and audio formats.

      I usually get the audio ones first, then buy the text-based one if I really enjoyed the audio book (for re-reading).

  • If this guy actually did represent authors, I would suddenly feel no desire to compensate authors. Some authors probably do feel that way, but l suppose paying for books is still the right thing to do. I don't mind paying for books, but of course the text to speech idea is silly. It is clear that in the next 20 years or so we will be getting some new copyright laws, as we transition from a society where the publisher is king to a society where we want to compensate people for what they've done. It's jus
  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:50PM (#26985597) Homepage Journal

    They just want to sell it to you on dead tree, then sell you the bits, then sell you the cassette, (excuse me, DRM-laden WMA files) all of the same work, and charge you each time for it, that's all. What's so wrong with that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:50PM (#26985605)


    <after basic filter>
    {beeep} OFF!

    <after christian fundamentalist filter>
    you poor misunderstood darling.

    <after DRM filter>
    go get em tiger - filthy pirates oughta be hung...

    <after *AA filter>
    let's do lunch.

    <after /. filter>
    first post!

  • Voice Talent (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gznork26 ( 1195943 )

    It seems to me that equating the output of a text-to-speech process to the product of a human reading the text as an audiobook debases the value of the people who provide the voices of so many audiobooks. Now, granted, at least some of the people who read for audiobooks are volunteers helping our libraries, but there are also audiobooks that are read by professional talent. Consequently, this claim equates professional actors, or professional voice actors, with a bit of technology. Shouldn't the actors' uni

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:51PM (#26985627)

    On the National Federation of the Blind's Web site, the guild is accused of arguing that it is illegal for blind people to use âoereaders, either human or machine, to access books that are not available in alternative formats like Braille or audio." . . . In fact, publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability. (The federation, though, points out that blind readers can't independently use the Kindle 2's visual, on-screen controls.) But that doesn't mean Amazon should be able, without copyright-holders' participation, to pass that service on to everyone.

    So his counterpoint to the argument that copyright laws allows the Kindle text-to-speech feature is that blind people can't use the Kindle? It didn't seem that he remotely addressed their point. For though blind people can't independently operate a Kindle, doesn't mean that they can't operate it all. i.e. "Sonny can you load up A Tale of Two Cities and play it for me". Also for those people who are not blind but visually impaired(dsylexic, far-sighted, glaucoma, etc. ), they may be able to operate the Kindle 2. I am not a copyright lawyer but aren't there organizations [rfbd.org] whose sole purpose is to record books on audiotape royalty-free for blind and visually impaired persons. I don't see how this feature is any different.

    • Yes, you do not understand his point. Let me help you.

      His point is that Amazon.com would like to set this up as "Big Mean Author's Guild vs. Helpless Blind People". When it's really the far more neutral "The Authors Guild vs. Amazon.com".

      Now, a kindle owner pays ~$10 to Amazon.com for an e-book, and some of that goes to the copyright holders (e.g. the authors). The Authors Guild's members get far more money for audio books than for e-books. And the distinction between an audio-book and an e-book is blurred by the TTS feature of the Kindle2. (Right now it sounds like a computer, but in five years, TTS may advance enough to make audio books a thing of the past.)

      What's the difference to you, the Kindle owner?
      Probably nothing. Amazon's price-point probably wont change much either way.

      What's the difference to the authors and amazon?
      Well if Amazon gets its way, it can make more money off of each e-book sale. If the author's get their way, they can make more money off each e-book sale.

      So the question is: Which do you like more? The people that write the books or the people that sell you the books?

  • public v private (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @03:55PM (#26985703)
    I don't get why I cant use the content I have purchased for personal use in any way I want to so long as I use it personally or among my small group of friends, just as I might read a book to my son at bed time (or is that illegal now ?).
    I get that there should be an extra payment (and have made such license payments) if I want to display a DVD publicly, because a bunch of other people might not buy the movie if they can just go see it projected by me.
    I have yet to see why Kindle reading a book takes bread from the mouths of authors and I don't see why celebrity audio-book readers should feel that they have any god-given monopoly on reading books aloud.
  • My Kindle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @04:27PM (#26986211) Homepage Journal

    My new Kindle has shipped from Amazon and will arrive any day. I'm planning to read Gutenberg books with it.

    If Mr. Blunt is successful in getting Amazon to remove the text to speech feature from my Kindle, will he compensate me for the loss of use of something I paid for?

    If prevents my Kindle from reading public domain books to me, then I expect a fucking check for a hundred bucks in my mailbox. Nothing less.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @05:01PM (#26986765)
    A well-done audio book will have emotion, nuances, voice changes, etc. Talking Text will be serviceable, but not especially interesting.

    In my town we have a group of experienced voice-readers who periodically perform reading books or plays in front of paying audiences. That effect is between a book and fully-staged play. Your imagination supplies the visual details. You can more easily concentrate on the words. You hear emotion and see it in the voice-reader's faces.

    Perhaps talking text will evolve in the future. I anticipate a "voice-markup" annotation that might suggest emotion, tone, gender, etc. to the reading computer. Music and screenplays do such now. In the distance future an A.I. reading computer will be able to figure these out.
  • by Cajun Hell ( 725246 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @05:11PM (#26986891) Homepage Journal

    Some people are saying that authors deserve to be paid for the audio. They're right. What they're forgetting, though, is that the authors are paid. Amazon paid for the e-book. The author whatever piece of that that they agreed would be fair. (Had they not agreed, all this talk about "copyright infringement" would be a hell of a lot less theoretical and Amazon's lawyers would already be scrambling and asking their client, "You did what?")

    It's not Amazon's fault that the writers sell the e-book so cheaply compared to audiobooks, just as it's not hulu's or boxee's fault that the video content providers sell video with a web browser framed around it, more cheaply that the same exact video without the web browser framed around it.

    Market segmentation is about fucking with people. Computers transforming the information you bought into a way that is easiest for you to use, is about getting un-fucked.

    I vote for the computer.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.