back to article Authors Guild to Amazon Kindle: Shut up

Amazon's new eBook reader, the Kindle 2, was just announced on Monday, but it's already drawing complaints from the publishing industry. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Kindle 2's Text-to-Speech capability is being called a copyright violation. The WSJ quotes Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Money-grabbing Gobshite

    FFs, what do these people want? Well, money, of course! Not all books are available as audiobooks, and most of those that are are usually abridged (ie cut to ribbons) to fit inside 3 hours. We've got this wonderful technology, speec synthesis is improving all the time. Now wait for the firmware update that makes the unit say "Sorry, blindie, you don't have the right to read what everyone is able to read"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Paul Aiken has been to the MPAA/RIAA/MS school of customer care: "you may think you have paid for it, but actually you only paid for a licence, and under the Ts+Cs you agreed to, we never sold you it, so YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING YOU'RE NOT AUTHORISED TO unless YOU PAY US LOTS MORE MONEY".

    Freetards of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your End User Licence Agreements.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Authors' Guild — RIAA in disguise?

    Next thing you know, the Authors' Guild will be suing parents for reading bedtime stories aloud to their children.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Don't have the right to read out loud?

    WTF? What planet am I on? Sometimes I feel like I've awoken to a mad world. Its a bit scary here.

  5. Daniel


    "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."

    While I'm not an attorney, I suggest that Mr. Aiken has the wrong end of the stick here. Amazon is not reading a book out load, the user is using a device to read a book out loud. Legally, there is a world of difference. In addition, even if that were determined to be an infringement in some cases, so long as there are substantial non-infringing uses, it would still be a legal feature to have. Seeing as accessibility for the seeing impaired would serve as a primary, if not the primary, use, I'd say that the Kindle is in the clear.


  6. Aram

    Moby Dick: 451 deg F

    It's an atrocious book that I felt compelled to read. I was bored to tears over a long period of time. Dull, dull, dull!

    Definitely the flame. Oh yes.

  7. Brian Whittle
    Thumb Down

    elbow arse

    you would have to be really desperate to listen to a book in a text to speech format , I love audio books and thats what my ipod is mostly used for but without the inflection of a real person, from my point of view text to speak as a waste of time

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Going old school

    /me slaps Mr. Aiken with a large trout wrapped around a copy of War and Peace. As the Rik said this twit needs to get a freakin' grip and understand the realities of a few things. Some of which are A: the kindle is still far to expensive for quite a few of us even if he did manage to weasel more money out of amazon (or whom ever they licensed to) for the text to speech thing, they wouldn't see any significant raise in that cut anytime soon due to the price. B: This isn't amazon selling audio books on the kindle it's a book reader with the ability to SPEAK THE FEKIN TEXT YOU NINNY. As Rik pointed out and as could thousands if not millions of people around the world this capability has been around for ages. So unless Mr. Aiken would like to pull a SCO and sue a great many software and hardware companies for including that capability over the years he's gonna have a tough sell of his ridiculous money grubbing ideas.

    Mine is the one with the ticket off the bizzaro world we live on sometimes.

  9. Paul

    Bit slow off the mark Mister Aiken

    Obviously not up to speed with his technology, is he?

    Apple had MacInTalk in 1984 (though apparently it wasn't officially supported until much later) and AmigaOS could also talk up a storm when it debuted in 1985. Text-to-speech is, indeed, nothing new.

    But never mind that, what next? Book clubs being raided by copyright police in ninja-like garb for "illegal public performance without a license"? Classroom doors being kicked down by armed thugs in riot gear when little Johnny is asked to read the first page of chapter 2 to the class?

  10. Stephen Bungay

    The loonies

    Are indeed running the asylum. Funny he never tried to claim the Kindle that was reading the book was putting on a public performance... or some other such silly drivel. I sometimes feel like I'm trapped in a nightmare.

    Mines the one with the reality check in the inside pocket.

  11. Henry Wertz Gold badge


    So maybe they should show some real class and go out and sue everyone making Kurzweil personal readers (OH NOES!!! A device who's ONLY POINT is to read written text out loud (for the blind) without any performance license whatsoever!!)

    Hopefully I haven't given this guild any bright ideas.

  12. milan

    numb minded but...

    I have to agree that the guys brain must have taken a dump to spurt out that kind of crap in relation to text to speech. Out of all the ways in the world to experience a book, the last way I'd choose would be for Stephen Hawking to read it to me.

    However the article make a spurious case against by stating that PC's have text to speech capability, it's like saying it's ok to have V8 engines on prams because cars have them, they both have wheels right? The Kindle is designed for books/magazines etc and I can't remember the last time I saw an advert for a PC that was designed solely or even partly for that.

  13. Dan Morelle

    Kindles Killer App

    This is a real threat to the audio book industry is the tipping point of its demise.

    Whilst it is an interesting legal argument, if in fact the textual content is licensed only to be read by the licensee it must be clearly stated that the text must not be read aloud. There is no audio that is stored on the Kindle, it is merely generated on the fly by the software. The software is only activated by the user, Kindle2 facilitates the ability to convert the text to audio, it does not take an active part in the possible infringement vis a vis Sony v. Amstrad.

    The voice will get better and whoever has listened to audio books knows how hustled you feel with an abridged audio book. This function gives the ability to listen to entire books at a fraction of the cost of an overpriced abridged audio book. People with accessibility issues are unfairly exploited for profit, capitalism leads to human behaviour that is designed to screw your fellow man for profit rather than help him grow for the benefit of all.

    Drawing attention to this by the Authors Guild will only generate the internet's ironical effect of poking ones finger in one's own eye. You can't hold back the tsunami that is the information liberation age whatever the puny legal arguements.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    is the word, all those, what ever guilds, have been highjaked bye crooks.

    It is high time those who have been highjaked did something about it, and soon.

    On the music front some progress is visible.

    Funny how this always goes the same way, you need somebody to represent and protect your "group", and then they take over and you are fucked from the inside.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    What an utter pile of shit device... It would have looked old in 1993, let alone now. Have these people never seen an Apple product? This stuff makes MircoShaft's efforts look well designed, and they're appalling.

    Really, people should just give up. Apple kit shits all over everyone else's. PCs? Utter crap. Nokia? Rubbish. Google /Amazon hardware?A complete joke. Microshaft? Pathetic.

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. david

    Perhaps Amazon should...

    ..offer to remove all guild members books from the site.

  18. David Shanahan

    Amazon Breaking Rules

    While it might seem mad that the Authors Guild would make a fuss about this the fact is that all other ebook readers and stores that support in-copyright purchases (e.g. eReader, MobiPocket, MS Reader) and have text-to-speech facilities (most do nowadays, Kindle's done nothing groundbreaking here) have always disabled this feature for those titles (printing is always disabled too). Look at any of the DRM'd books on for example and you'll see it noted that text-to-speech is disabled for all DRMed ebook formats.

    I thought it was odd that Kindle had unilaterally switched it on and suspected the copyright owners might object, and now they have. They're simply trying to enforce the same rule for Amazon as all the other players. It is a stupid rule though, let's hope Amazon are brave enough to take them on in court, and win, so all the other ebook vendors can enable this too.

  19. Jodo Kast

    Money trumps people again

    Obviously the reasons they give make it clear that greed is the motivating factor behind these complaints. Any computer can do this with Microsoft's software, are they ignorant or just stupid?

    Things aren't going to change until companies realize you put people before profits, it's not hard to understand.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gaiman's comment

    Neil Gaiman: When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one's going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors' societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what's good about them with it.

  21. Tom
    Thumb Down

    Control freaks

    Aiken and all the other control freaks who think they can take your money and tell you what you can do can just piss off.

  22. raving angry loony


    I guess the ongoing abuse of copyright laws is having an effect after all. Now everyone wants to stretch and shape copyright law to suit their own private wallet-stealing agendas.

    I used to think copyright had a purpose, but no more. Fuck that. Information wants to be free. Freetards of the world unite, because otherwise we'll be paying to fucking breath in certain patterns.

  23. Levente Szileszky

    Mr Aitken is just another retardd greedy bureaucrat...

    ...who better STFU and welcome any opportunity that will sell more of all the crap they produce (yes, there, I just said it: majority of the books today are CRAP.)

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Could you do it the other way around?

    If text-to-speech was ok to do, could you legally run it back via speech recognition to get the original text?

    It might be more of a threat than having a real person read it aloud.

  25. scotchbonnet

    This Story Says So Much...

    ...about what's wrong with modern society:

    * putting profits first - slavering greed in the first degree

    * demonising people for being creative in how they use products and interact with technology

    * hiding behind finely parsed meanings like pencil-necked attorneys instead of applying common sense meanings that resonate with a majority of people

    * attempting to control and micromanage others use of their products

    * demonstrating an indifference to one's customers that is indicative of the most profound sort of narcissism

    * fathomless self-absorption accompanied with an utter misunderstanding of one's real importance in the big scheme of things

    The story is a veritable microcosm of the failings of modern Western culture.

    A pox on your house, Mr. Aiken - may you and any family who support you suffer horribly in the future.

  26. Peter


    These folks remind me of a famous book called Moby Dick. I'm just not sure about Moby, though

  27. Paul

    I hear...

    ...they're also trying to ban you reading books aloud to kids, too. And lending them to people. And borrowing them from libraries.


  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Different perspective

    I normally would agree on flaming about RIAA etc.. but he might have a point. While admittedly at this moment in time text-to-speech is still pretty pathetic, but this technology is continually improving and will one day be roughly the same as a normal human voice and tone.

    By that time, if kindle uses that kind of technology, then it will wipe out an entire industry of audio books. What would happen between now and then? It will be an interesting development.

  29. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit
    Jobs Horns


    Another non first for apple. The venerable BBC Micro could do text to speech in an actors voice from it's introduction in late '81, Keneth Kendall was the default voice. Yes yes I know a hardware addon was needed but this was available from the machines launch. I doubt that this was the first either.

    The technically remarkable but fairly unlistenable phoenetic based software solution came later.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To play Devil's Advocate...'re all thinking too short-term. Yes, listening to a book read out by Kindle's current software and limited sophistication shouldn't present any threat to a writer's audiobook sales, but what about a year from now? Or five? Its no great stretch to imagine future versions of Kindle that can handle inflection, can pick up male and female voices from the sentence structure, you name it. Once a Kindle can deliver a pseudo-audio book experience, what then? Because authors would have effectively waived their rights to Amazon creating a royalty-free audio book model through a series of incremental improvements; creating the MP3 of the book world; shittier than a real audio book, but good enough for freetards right?

    Maybe this guy simply has a great deal more imagination about the effects this could have on HIS livelihood than you lot. Its not necessarily greed; for every Neil Gaiman there are 10,000 others who scrape by.

  31. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    I'd better be careful...

    I often read my books in a room which has a mirror on the wall and that would be making an illegal copy, wouldn't it?

  32. Dave Bell

    Not always this stupid

    The Authors Guild isn't always this stupid. But there's been a lot of copyright stupidity over the last few years.

    And, reading between the lines of some accounts I've seen, the people who do the work of publishing don't think much of the corporate lawyers and accountants who usually attract the ire of the Authors Guild. The whole eBook business is is plagued by exploitation and greed.

    And there has got to be a distinction drawn between proper audio books and this sort of mechanical, user-controlled, process. This might not be so bad a start. It depends on the ending.

  33. The BigYin

    It has probably already been said...

    ...but WTF is this money-grabbing cock on?

    Does that mean if I read a book out loud I need to pay a fee? Get a grip. The Kindle will probably do a fair simulation of a human voice allowing the hard-of-sight, or perhaps the busy, to enjoy the prose to an extent. It will almost certainly lack human emotion and other tonal changes, for that you still need a voice artist/actor/human reader.

    All this berk can see if dollar signs in his eyes and care not one bit about the public audience.

    I do not have a Kindle, I prefer my books to not need batteries (and as I like graphic novels, the quality of the printing is also important to the experience). But those that do should be allowed to enjoy it as they see fit, without some money-grabbing git poking their beak in.

  34. Harry
    Thumb Down

    "Grandad, please read me a story"

    Nobody ever accused Grandad of violating Enid Blyton's copyright by reading Noddy out loud to his own grandchildren.

    Law and common sense usually don't go together, but the common sense answer would be that reading to up to half a dozen people ought to be perfectly OK.

    Reading to a dozen or more might be considered a performance, especially if those people are not immediately associated with the person who bought the book.

  35. Paul Murphy

    Copy right?

    Err where is the copy ?

    As pointed out numerous times above this is nothing more than a blatant attempt at extracting more money from someone maybe it's also a very mis-guided attempt at promoting the authors guild.

    It's doomed to fail for many different kinds of reason, not least of which is the number of perfectly legitimate uses for a talking book.

    Since no copy is made there can be no copyright issues,

    Just because a device can be used for something doesn't mean that it doesn't have a legitimate use (just like torrent technology).

    I think it's actually rather pathetic, the authors can already expect a share of each book sale and if anything they should be encouraging people to read using whatever methods are available, not putting into place spurious reasons for people not to read.


    trying not to read aloud, just in case.

  36. Brett Brennan

    Derivative rights

    The Author's Guild is really NOT trailing behind technology, but is actually running somewhat ahead of it - unlike RIAA. This infringement is actually pretty serious - or it will be when text to speech improves to the next level. And defining the rights now is far less drastic than waiting until it becomes a serious problem.

    The Guild has a very, very legitimate point here. Derivative rights are the real "bread" underlaying an author's copyright "butter": these are the way most authors make their living in the real world.

    I'll give you a real world example. One of my very old friends is a horror writer - no one you'd ever really notice (he's an engineer in his day job), but he's had a couple of stories published over the years. The original publication usually garnered him about US$1000 - not a lot of "butter" so to speak.

    However, he has re-sold the derivative rights to these stories over the years for more money. His very first story has been resold at least five or six time (as a comic book adaptation, part of a horror anthology, a magazine serial, a science-fiction anthology and a couple others), each for about US$500. As far as I know he hasn't sold the audio book rights yet, or the movie rights, but those would also be worth a couple of extra bucks.

    So, in this single, specific case, the derivative value of his copyright has been worth at least three times what he was paid for the original print version. Multiply this by several stories or books, and you are talking about a small but meaningful income stream.

    Licensing is how the entire publishing industry has operated for centuries - it just hasn't made sense until we had electronic data replication to raise the legal issues from an annoyance to a serious economic problem. Until the late 1950's the only meaningful issue for an author was illegal publishing of their works - and that usually occurred in countries that had no copyright enforcement, but equally few literate people. Xerography was the first real challenge to copyright enforcement in print - and again this was an annoyance unless a college or university decided to perform it wholesale. But the authors and publishers were on top of this issue almost immediately: check out the changes to copyright notice wording in books published in the 1960's and then in the 1980's. "Electronic and other means" got added in there - for good reason.


    Amazon will probably solve this by offering the Guild(s) an add-on percentage (and passing on the cost) to cover the potential loss of revenue for the audio rendering. The author gets a proportional bump in revenue for each copy sold...which will FAR outstrip their audio book revenue in most cases.

  37. Mike Crawshaw

    @ Stevoid, "Gaiman's Comment"

    I thoroughly liked Neil Gaiman's writing before seeing this. Now I feel compelled to go buy a Collector's Edition set of Sandman comics to show my appreciation for his common sense.

    <-the ones with the concealed copies of bedime stories that I read aloud in a whisper so as not to get sued...

  38. John

    it's time to stop

    indeed it is time to stop animators of all types. they draw on acetate or in their computer modelling packages images that are only there to stop decent law-abiding unemployed actors from getting a job and feeding their families. Just think of all the cartoons in the world and how many actors could be employed if they were filmed with real people!

  39. dreadful scathe

    @Rik Hemsley

    couldnt have said it better myself :)

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Writing on the wall for audiobooks

    To those few who point out that text-to-speech technology could (will) improve to the point that it poses a threat to the audiobook industry, all I have to say is "That's progress". We don't owe these people a living. Let them find another job. I used to work for a large computer service bureau. We sold CPU time for up to a pound a second. The upstart microprocessor comes along and puts paid to that. Maybe we should have sued Intel/Motorola/etc for daring to expand the uses beyond the likes of washing machine controllers!

    When the time comes for the Authors Guild to prepare their CVs, I hope they don't read any books on the subject. The CVs might then be illegal due to being a derivative work!

  41. David Kesterson

    and software, too

    I feel the same way. Take for instance, software. After I have paid for it I ought to be able to run it on any computer or any several computers and give it to my friends as well. Once a developer has been paid for it once, why do they need any more $. They certainly have no property rights once they have been paid something. Right?

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Brett Brennan

    What a pile of twaddle. Please explain how, if someone has paid for a book then having someone else read it to them has robbed the author of any money? And there's another point along the lines of reading to your kids and not just at bedtime, are the guild of authors saying that a blind person cannot ask a friend to read a book out loud for them? Or are they saying that it's only a no-no if technology is used when the friend isn't available.

    Will the next step be that I can't read a book wearing my glasses as that deprives the author of some corrected sight or large print derivative?

    If I pay for a book them surely I'm allowed to digest the contents by any means available.

  43. blackworx

    jesus suffering etc.

    Publishers are going down the exact same road the riaa/mpaa went down and see where it got them. I absolutely agree with fair compensation, but how difficult is to understand that YOU DON'T GET IT BY RATTLING THE COPYRIGHT SABRE!

  44. Steve Roper

    @ Chris W

    "Will the next step be that I can't read a book wearing my glasses as that deprives the author of some corrected sight or large print derivative?"

    That's exactly what money-grubbing parasites like Mr Brennan and Aiken et al would like. Why stop there? How about: Not allowed to read a book in bed because they want to retain the right to release a version in a new design that makes it easier to read lying down? Not allowed to read a book on the bus or train because they want to release a version with fold-out covers that prevent other people from seeing the text? Not allowed to read a book under fluorescent lighting because they want to release a version with lower-contrast print that looks better under such conditions? I can see the book licences now:

    "This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be read aloud and may not be read by oneself other than in a private house, flat or apartment in a seated upright position under incandescent lighting of not less than 60W and not more 100W with the light source not less than 2m and not more than 5m from the book while facing north on a cloudy day between the hours of 4pm and 6pm wearing a T-shirt, jeans, black socks and shoes but no gloves, glasses or contact lenses. The author reserves the right to produce derivative versions of this work that may be read in different positions, at different times and under different conditions and that provision of such works shall be subject to a separate licence."

    I too look to the future and see where this copyright-every-possible-variation mentality is heading. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Chris. And these oxygen-thieving wastes of biomass have the cheek to call US freetards? Fuck off.

  45. Slate

    Re: it's time to stop by John

    That is a brilliant idea, there are several actors I can think of who could greatly benefit the movie industry by having an anvil or piano dropped on their heads

  46. Brett Brennan

    @Chris W - Fair Use

    As an individual you have the right, under the Fair Use provisions of copyright, to make personal copies and derivative works for your own, non-commercial use. You could purchase a book, then painstakingly copy it by hand to a blank volume, illuminating the words and illustrating to your heart's content. Likewise you can read the book aloud into a tape recorder and allow your family to listen to the tape as they like. This is protected under law.

    However, the Kindle falls afoul of the same laws that are being applied (wrongly, in my opinion) to BitTorrent and other forms of unlicensed reproduction and distribution. This is illustrated by the way other eBooks that include text-to-speech disable the feature for DRM-encumbered works.

    Text-to-speech implemented in a device which has the sole purpose of delivering copyright content for VISUAL reading (ie, the eBook derivative license) does NOT automatically allow audio reproduction (the audio book derivative license) - unless the copyright covering the specific work explicitly includes the audio reproduction permission as well. It is a case that text-to-speech has NO NON-INFRINGING USE in the device.

    If the Kindle allowed playing audio files (music, audio books) this would be fine. Fair Use allows you to make a copy of a music track and play it for your personal use on another device, and this would include you making an mp3 copy of an audio book for later personal play-back.

    The Kindle doesn't just reproduce something that has already been purchased in the licensed format: it PUBLISHES a derivative work on-the-fly. Unless that right has been purchased by the licensee that makes the work available as an eBook derivative and the audio derivative is extended to Amazon as part of the copyright included with the work, then Amazon's inclusion of a feature that can ONLY be used to infringe on the derivative work copyright is illegal. And the use of text-to-speech with non-copyright works, while completely legal, is only NOT infringing because the original copyright - and therefore all of the derivative works - is no longer in force.

    This is really a huge, HUGE can of worms being opened. The audio book derivative is just the first hair from the camel's nostril poking under the tent. I can envision in the near future a home super computer with an AI that will take a book text as input and create a lavish, high-def anime-like video of the story, complete with editing and dialogue. This would completely transform the motion picture and television industries overnight. Notice I didn't say "wipe out": these industries would be just like the buggy-makers of the 19th century who transformed into auto makers.

    My contention is that if Amazon pays a license fee for the text-to-speech derived works NOW, it both solves the problem AND sets precedent for the NEXT wave of innovation. The MPAA would get HAMMERED by the above movie scenario, but they couldn't argue against the precedent...and the author of the story - who normally gets only a few hundred thousand for their story AT BEST from a studio - would see automatic additional revenue for the "movie" rights built right into their copyright payment.

    I hope this clarifies some of the points in question here.

    (BTW, I'm "well read" in this topic, but I'm NOT a lawyer or solicitor, so check with you legal counsel for a more technical explanation.)

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >I hope this clarifies some of the points in question here


    You may not be a lawyer nor a solicitor but you could certainly be a politician. The question was...

    Please explain how, if someone has paid for a book then having someone else read it to them has robbed the author of any money?

    If I may further qualify someone else as being man or machine.

  48. Steve Buell

    What about

    What about other products which include TTS (Text To Speech) functions?

    I'm thinking about Adobe Acrobat Reader, for one.

    Where is the line drawn?

    Is it possible that the writer's guild is looking at a potential revenue loss on their own audio book retail?

    Everyone and their dog (service dog or not) seems to be coming out with some type of TTS solution. Some of the voices are actually very good and the speech engines are constantly making improvements.

    Sounds like another business mdel that failed to transition into the modern age.


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