Author's Guild claims text-to-speech software is illegal

Kindle 2's flagship feature is the reading of text out loud, in the same way as software that's already built into desktop computers and Prof. Stephen Hawking's famous voice box. This has caused a "stir." Paul Aiken, executive director of the Author's Guild, told the Wall Street Journal that you have no right to use this feature. It's a free audiobook, see.

They don't have the right to read a book out loud," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

An Amazon spokesman noted the text-reading feature depends on text-to-speech technology, and that listeners won't confuse it with the audiobook experience. Amazon owns Audible, a leading audiobook provider.

Forget for a moment that text-to-speech doesn't copy an existing work. And forget the odd notion that the artificial enunciation of plain text is equivalent to a person's nuanced and emotive reading. The Guild's claim is that even to read out loud is a production akin to an illegal copy, or a public performance.

If a machine reading a book creates a derivative work, why not a person reading a book?

Ideas grow to fill the containers they imply, and the problem with bad ideas is that their containers are leaky and misshapen. Even if you firmly believe in broad copyright laws, intellectual property is a bad idea because it recasts a legal device as its own philosophical justification. This journey from the utilitarian to the exalted creates a sublime monster that can't help but govern not only the duplication of things, but every aspect of their expression and the culture that makes them meaningful.


About Rob Beschizza

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