14 February 2009

Author's Guild Sticking their Heads in Uncomfortable Orifices Again?

Several friends in the last few days have sent me messages from Author's Guild and/or news stories from Publisher's Weekly about the message from AG concerning the fact that the Amazon Kindle 2 will read e-books to you. I can sum up my reaction in one question...

Would anyone be offended, if I called this man an idiot?

Oh, you want more definition on my reaction. Since several people have asked me to make this one a blog post, I will happily do so.

First of all, Amazon isn't EXPLOITING anyone's e-book rights. Books don't magically appear on Kindle. They are placed there by authors or publishers, and the distribution of books is a publisher's purview, if you're working with a publisher. If you don't want Kindle books, you need to discuss that with the publisher beforehand, but if they do it, expect to make a choice of not signing the contract or of accepting that it will be distributed there.

And, I've been able to have an e-book read to me by no less than three programs
I can name (ReadPlease, Adobe Acrobat, and MSReader) for YEARS (at least 4 years). This is not a new development to Kindle. Nor is it somehow news that it's possible. Unless the book is a secured format, this was always possible for e-books.

Take note. It hasn't killed audio sales yet. Know why?

I can give several reasons. The people buying audio books are purchasing them for the voice actors (not the tinny computer voices, good as some of them are, and the errors in pronunciation computers make in reading), for ease of using them in Mack trucks, etc. None of these things have been effectively overcome by computer text-to-speech/voice yet.

While I have been busy making a big deal out of the fact that you can text-to-speech many e-books (not all), and they are much cheaper than recorded audio books, it hasn't caught on yet. It won't, until computer can match or exceed what they already get for quality and ease of use, and it can't yet.

If it DOES take off, it will simply mean that people who need audio books will have a much wider choice of reading material, unsecured e-book formats that may never have professional voice actors doing "real" audio books of them. And those publishers who don't want this to happen will simply have to invest in DRM that stops text-to-speech, as they already can.

This isn't the time to start negotiating your e-book rights? Snort. I'm sorry. For them (the ever-wise voices of AG), it's NEVER the time. The doom-saying these people do is fairly amazing to me. We haven't seen this sort of uproar since Gutenberg unveiled his great machine. And it's no more helpful now.

Oh, and his footnote is even more ridiculous. Blind people USE computers. Perhaps not the Kindle, but text-to-speech as a computer software is not new, and there are all sorts of accessories and software to make computers accessible to the blind. Rolling eyes.

IMO, telling the blind that they cannot use perfectly legal text-to-speech programs to read their e-books to them IS infringing on their rights to access (legally) books they bought for their own enjoyment. I'm sorry. As an author, if a blind reader wanted to enjoy my books, why would I balk at them using such a program? As long as they aren't pirating the copies (audio or e...and Kindle won't allow that), why should it be any of my business how someone "reads"/accesses a book he/she bought? It shouldn't be Author's Guild's business either.

These people should join the 21st Century for a few days.


Rowena Cherry said...

Good morning, Brenna.

I'm amused that you and I are both blogging one way or another with our minds on behinds.

Thanks for the heads up on Kindle 2. My take is slightly different from yours, because I don't sell (or give) all rights to one publisher.


TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Thank you.

I'm glad I read your post before I read the Author's Guild article, since you gave me fair warning of "dumb statements about blind people" and perhaps I won't roar quite so loudly. My blind friend loves e-books because they make a larger range of reading available to him--particularly erotica, which isn't widely available in professional audio books. And you know, I'd hate to deprive a man of the chance to read my happy smut in the only format he can...

Angela Caperton said...


Thanks, Brenna. Well said! As someone that enjoys audio books on my daily commute, you're right about the voice actors. When I purchase audio books, I not only look for authors or subjects I enjoy, but I also look to see who is reading it.

And I agree - if someone wants their computer to "read" my eBooks to them - for whatever reason - more power to them, as long as they bought the eBook from a legitimate source.

Marilynn Byerly said...

I agree that the AG has handled this badly, but, unfortunately, they are pointing out a problem the publishing industry must face.

Text-to-speech (TTS) hasn't been given a LEGAL definition as a right or part of a right, and until it has that definition through the courts, most publishers will continue to use DRM to lock TTS because they don't want to be sued by authors if it is declared a separate right, and they don't want to lose lucrative audiobook rights if it's declared part of the audio rights.

Everyone is screwed by this lack of definition, particularly the visually impaired, because many books won't be available for TTS.

As an aside, one of my publishers has said that Amazon will probably have an opt in and opt out clause for TTS in their next Kindle contract so this current controversy won't bring that legal clarification.

I have a legal overview on my blog of the TTS situation as well as links to various articles on the subject by copyright lawyers if anyone is interested.

BrennaLyons said...


I am well aware of the legal difficulties. That said, it's rather cut and dried. If someone doesn't want her e-books read by these programs, she needs to DRM them against it or opt out of it. If that means giving up certain distribution channels to lock their books, it's their loss.

To me, this is rather cut and dried. Since the programs I use for text to speech aren't making an MP3 copy that can be pirated, it's simply another choice in how to access the file, without changing the file.

I find it deplorable that anyone would want to make it "illegal" to have the computer read an e-book to you. Beyond the vision impaired, you're dealing with authors and editors who use auditory edits. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I teach middle and high school students to use ReadPlease to aid them in editing their own work.

I find it inconceivable that anyone who isn't selling an audio version of his book would complain about having the widest possible audience for that e-book, including vision impaired having the e-book read to them by the computer voices. And it's unconscionable that they would try to cut off the livelihood of those who DON'T have audio of their books, by attempting to make it illegal to have computers read e-books to you.

No offense, but the software is not currently illegal, and I'd like to keep it that way. If some publisher out there (or some author) HAS an audio book and wants to protect their rights, they can darned well either opt out or lock their e-books to prevent text to speech from working. Beyond that, they can stay OUT of my market and not ruin a good thing for other people.


Marilynn Byerly said...

No offense taken. I've merely been stating the legal problems, not my opinion.

What it all boils down to is that our opinions don't really matter because the courts will have to figure this out so publishers and authors know how to deal with the issue.

I'm sure you remember the Rosetta Books versus Random House case in 2001 which settled the issue of whether ebook rights were part of paper rights. This is the same kind of situation.

Right now, all a publisher can do is cut off TTS to protect their legal rear.

Those of us with older contracts will have to hope our publisher has our best interest at heart, whatever that is for each of us, when they sign the new Kindle contract because most of us will have no say.

For all parties involved, particularly the visually impaired, I hope some definition of this right is created.

BrennaLyons said...

Of course, I haven't dismissed or forgotten that case, but IMO, it's not the same thing. The case you're citing was based on whether an author had the right to utilize his/her e-rights, when he/she had signed the print rights to a publisher. Whether or not the author had the right to SELL a product, based on where the overlap of rights is, and that case went well, IMO.

This case is the opposite. It's about whether the author/publisher has the right to block access by a whole group of people via a relatively new means, because said person has a competing product which has a more established market. Now, on one hand, yes...they have the right to block that access, but the means to doing it are already in place, and there is no need for them to interfere with the market of others, when it's as simple as them making choices to cut that possibility off in their own product.

This isn't about a separate sales outlet. The authors already have established that they are selling audio rights to that PRODUCT or e-book distribution rights to that PRODUCT when they sign them. The rest just means the DRM or opting out that makes their product unable to be converted.

But, that's too simple for them, apparently. Making it difficult makes for media coverage they wouldn't get otherwise, and gods forbid they pass up on that!

Where the confusion comes is in the rights of READERS to access (legally) a product they purchased. Since the types of programs I'm talking about make a temporary conversion, able to be used more than once but not able to be saved and passed as the audio file, saying that it's creating a new permanent copy of the PRODUCT is misleading on the part of Author's Guild. It's simply another way to access an electronic file (auditory instead of visual access). You just open it with a different program or press a different button on the screen to get the file read to you.

Like you, I really hope a court case decides this soon, but for a lot of people, this has less to do with some fictional abuses as it does with the needs of readers, specifically those who cannot access books in the usual fashion, for whatever reason.

And yes, I'll say the entire thing is a fiction, just another "sky is falling moment," brought to you, courtesy of Author's Guild. If their authors/publishers have a problem with the text to speech, they can opt out or DRM their files. That's their right, and no one can begrudge them that. I certainly wouldn't.

Other than that, they need to stop trying to make the entire industry lose out for their laziness and neurosis.