Amazon.com has given in to the Publisher’s Guild on the issue of text-to-speech capabilities in the Kindle 2.
In their press release, Amazon states up front that “Kindle 2′s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given.“ In this statement, they are correct. If I read a book to someone who is visually or otherwise impaired, it takes a stretch of the imagination to suggest that I am actually staging a performance.
In addition, as I stated when the issue was first raised:
“How would someone with a visual impairment be able to order the audio book version of a title without using a screen reader? In addition, how would they know whether a website allows for the use, under copyright law, of their own website by someone with a screen reader?”
To state that a feature of your product is legal, and to understand the benefit that the feature would bring to users of the product, but to then allow it to be disabled arbitrarily by third parties strikes me as a company that is attempting to placate the “squeaky wheels” simply because they threaten legal action.
BookFinder.com Journal makes a comparison to the relationship between large-print books and magnifiers. Should the ability of consumers to use magnifiers while reading be controlled by the publisher (after all, it might be costing them large-print sales).
If you still feel that publishers should have the final say, then consider whether they should have this ability to control works that are in the public domain. It doesn’t matter whether it is the consumer’s right to use text-to-speech, according to this decision; it only matters that individual consumers cannot respond with the apparent impact that the Writer’s guild can muster.
There has been a similar theme in the bibliographical world lately – rules being put in place that attempt to ignore or even circumvent that which already exists, whether it is Public Domain, Fair Use, or the First Sale doctrine. OCLC, Google, and now Amazon have all implemented restrictions to their various offerings. OCLC, to their credit, has stepped back and is in the process of re-evaluating its approach towards licensing records. Google hasn’t even blinked about restricting access to Google Book items waaay beyond even the tightest of copyright interpretations. Amazon asserts the rights of users to use text-to-speech, but then allows those with a vested interest against it to control its use.
Yes, there is a pattern to all of this, and we need to figure out how to prevent it from continuing.