Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Kindle raises copyright query

kindle 2The American launch of Kindle 2, the new version of Amazon's electronic reader, has raised a copyright query over a 'text-to-speech' function. According to The Wall Street Journal:
Some publishers and agents expressed concern over a new, experimental feature that reads text aloud with a computer-generated voice.

"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.
Amazon says that more than 230,000 titles are now available to download to a Kindle, and early reviews suggest that the new version improves the device's usability.

It's not clear, however, when it will be available in the UK. As Bobbie Johnson writers in The Guardian, to sell Kindle 2 in this country, Amazon will need to overcome several hurdles relating to the use of its wireless technology.

Update (13 Feb 2009): The Authors Guild (USA) has now put up an official statement on its website.
We're studying this matter closely and will report back to you. In the meantime, we recommend that if you haven't yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn't the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon's use of those rights is part of the dialog. Publishers certainly could contractually prohibit Amazon from adding audio functionality to its e-books without authorization, and Amazon could comply by adding a software tag that would prohibit its machine from creating an audio version of a book unless Amazon has acquired the appropriate rights. Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books.

Bundling e-books and audio books has been discussed for a long time in the industry. It's a good idea, but it shouldn't be accomplished by fiat by an e-book distributor.


  1. Anonymous9:51 am

    As an agent, I'm very much keeping an eye on this. As a general rule, the more rights you can split and have paid for separately, the more money the writer makes. So not keen on an audio facility on this, which will erode the already fragile audio market. Even though Kindle's probably lost a lot of ground due to the Sony getting here first, manufacturers of the next generation of eReaders will not doubt seek to add functions such as this (as is the trend with any new technology), and we need to be vigilant.

  2. Anonymous4:15 pm

    I agree with Meg Davis. We must avoid the blurring of rights or it'll turn around and bite us. And yes eReaders can have as many new functions as they please... as long as they pay for them!


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