Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Amazon Kindle and TTS

If you haven't heard, the amazon Kindle 2.0 includes RealSpeak TTS. Interesting idea, no idea yet how well they did with it. In looking at the number of new stories about the kindle, I'm pretty sure this is the single biggest story in history that mentions TTS.

Anyway, not everyone is happy about the TTS.

Book publishers object to Kindle's text-to-voice feature

Was your mother a lawbreaker when she read you The Little Prince or Green Eggs and Ham?

That's the question raised Tuesday by the Authors Guild, an advocacy group for writers. Paul Aitken, the group's executive director objects to the text-to-speech feature on Amazon's Kindle 2 digital-book reader. Aitken told The Wall Street Journal: "They don't have the right to read a book out loud. That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

Wow. If a computer can't lawfully read a book out loud, do human beings have the right? Amazon and Aitken could not be reached for comment.

Well, mothers of America, never fear. You most certainly do have the right to privately perform copyright work, says Ben Sheffner, a copyright attorney. Sheffner, a well-known copyright advocate, says the issue of whether Amazon's Kindle infringes on intellectual property is not as cut and dry.

Amazon's technology enables a computer voice to read text aloud to owners of the Kindle 2, the next-gen version of reader.

Sheffner said it's unclear whether the text-to-speech feature could be considered a public performance. Under copyright law, if someone profits from, say, a public reading of a copyright work without authorization, they are breaking the law. Someone could argue, said Sheffner, that the Kindle's speech feature is a public performance because it enables scores of people to receive audio of a book. Sheffner added that the counter argument would be that the feature is only enabling lots of different private--and therefore legal--performances.

Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School, said he doesn't see how the speech feature violates copyright law if no recorded copy of the book is created. Book publishers often license audio books separately than the text versions.

"The only right really that might be implicated is the so-called public performance," Zittrain said. "But what I want the thing to do is to read to me in the car. I don't see a copy being made so I don't see how this can be Amazon's problem."

The debate could be academic. If the book publishers don't like the feature, they can refuse to renew their licenses with Amazon in the future. And my colleague Ina Fried raised another point. Why would Kindle owners choose a computer voice when they can hear a recording of the author or a professional actor reading the book?

Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. He is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg.


Anonymous said...

I'm considering the Kindle 2.0 and fairly excited about the TTS. I wouldn't use the TTS to listen to novels, but more to listen to news sites I'd subscribed to via rss (which the Kindle can do, I think).

I really wish Google would add some high-end TTS to Google Reader. Slashdot does it for their stories. I like to use TTS for medium length news stories.

Anonymous said...

Publishers are completely insane! I can't believe you Americans are accepting such treatment.

Marilynn Byerly said...

My compliments on your blog. It's the most intelligent I've seen on this subject.

One point that isn't brought up is that there is no legal distinction yet between TTS rights and audio rights.

Many publishers disable TTS on their ebooks because they don't want to lose their/the author's audio rights, and some audiobook companies won't touch a book that has TTS because of the same legal gray areas.

I hope that the Author Guild and Amazon will go to court on this issue for everyone's sake.

Anonymous said...

As someone who works with people with reading disabilities - this feature is priceless for many people. I've been searching for a portable product/software that will highlight the word as it's spoken and be able to slow down the speech. this is getting closer!!

Brandon said...

It seems kind of ironic to me that everyone's freaking about the Kindle, when BookShare allows the same thing to be done, not to mention things like the Victor Stream, there are actually a few MP3 players out that have TTS, even the Braille'n Speak. And in most cases, people don't even have to pay for what they put on these devices, as they do with the Kindle.
Heck, I could make my iRiver read to me if I wanted to put in a bit of fiddling. This is just another example of outdated, profit-oriented thinking. I for one will not give up my reading habbit, considering I read about 10 books a week.

Ed Behnke said...

As a newly blind person, I miss reading a great deal. My library is the size of a lot of smaller librarys tech section.

I have sampled the meager offerings of popular audio books. Did you know that it takes a long time to read a book with random turned on in the player and even in the car you have to listen to the cd from start to finish, like that is goint to happen. I can see with extreame magnification so I only want the text read to me, while I will look at graphics and formula myself.

I am a practicing particle physcist so I read technical things by defauld and am very excited by tts as a way to stay in the game so to speak. It seems as though discriminating against my disability should be actionable by a class action lawsuit.

As a school board member I can see that tts will do so many positive things for my students that getting in front of it should lead to getting run over. This is definatly a very Luddite type response. You cannot stop technology just because you are greedy. Could you imagine students loosing the literally heavy books and gaining the multimedia capabilities of a mini computer (like my new HP Mini) in each of thier hands. It could read to those who would benifit from the help. Content is, after all, the important part, not the skill of reading. They are intertwined like Yes, I will listen to this posting with my text aloud and att vcharging for hambergers rs and the roadside store. People use to add up the bill and now that is done by a machine and people serve the food withouut overcharging or undercharging. The same is the fate of reading. Some is counterproductive and content is the baby in the bath water.

I listen to all my news paper articles everything I write, all incomming emails all my american physical society journal articles etc. using Text Aloud and Adobe Reader.

I sure hope the world can put these Luddites back in thier box and nail the lid shut before they ruin my world and set back technological progress which promises to be the most important advance in access to information in at least our lifetimes, possibly ever - think Wickapedia - outlawed in schools and a professional staple.