The notoriously litigious ink-lovers at the Writers Guild are mad at Amazon again—this time for the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature. Apparently, Amazon is effectively stealing and giving away audiobooks, or something.
The Guild claim, as printed in the WSJ:
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.”
As Rob at BBG points out, the idea that a robotic reading of text is materially equivalent to a proper, recorded audio version of a book—read by the author in many cases—is ridiculous. It’s possible that the Writers Guild folks are so whimsical as to think that every Kindle 2 download contains a tiny, kidnapped authorial homunculus that needs to be saved, but I think their perception of the device is what sparked this whole thing.
Still, the issue is more clear now than it will be in a few years. If text-to-speech synthesis improves much more, it could be mostly indistinguishable from a human reading, the widespread use such technology could render audiobooks all but pointless. Looking ahead to this time, we have two different perpectives: that dedicated audiobooks should gracefully pass into obsolescence, or that audiobooks deserve to exist, and that anything threatening their sales must be illegal.