Does Amazon have the right to read books out loud?

One of the new features of the Kindle is the ability for it to use text to speech to read books out loud. The demo was impressive as a demo but given the flat, robotic speech I can’t imagine anyone actually ever using that feature. There’s a reason they hire actors with good voices to read audiobooks. What’s interesting is that the Author’s Guild is a little up in arms about this feature. From the Wall Street Journal

Some publishers and agents expressed concern over a new, experimental feature that reads text aloud with a computer-generated voice. “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.”

Now, I know that if I buy a song, I don’t necessarily have the rights to use it as a ringtone (or do I?). I also know there’s been a lot of legal issues preventing places like iTunes from embedding lyrics to songs they distribute. But isn’t the ability for an end user to read or have the book read aloud something that’s an implied right? I’m not a lawyer (much to my parent’s chagrin) but it seems to me, this one’s a little silly. Perhaps the Author’s Guild didn’t quite understand what Amazon’s doing. Perhaps they’re concerned about a future where synthetic actors could replace audiobooks and they want to stake an early claim. Of course what makes this all the more amusing is Amazon owns Audible who’s probably the largest retailer of digital audiobooks. Let’s see where this one goes.


Update – The folks at Engadget ask a lawyer for an opinion. It appears there might be some merit in the claim. As I speculated, this might not be about the current state of the art but where things might be headed in a few years.

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