Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Can your Kindle read to you?

The new Kindle apparently can “read out loud”—that is speech-synthesize—its books. Paul Aiken, director of the Author’s Guild, told the Wall Street Journal they can’t do that:

“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud. … That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”

Renowned (and Newbery) author Neil Gaiman begs to differ:

“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.”

My opinion. Gaiman is right on the way it should work. The Kindle, with its DRM model, undermines what Gaiman got from “buying” a physical book, but it’s certainly strange to imagine people can own a piece of text free and clear, but not be allowed to run a program that reads it aloud.

On the legal grounds, however, I fear Aiken might be right. As a rule authors grant publishers highly specific rights. These limits generally include countries, copies, covers, formats and timeframes. That’s one reason eBooks took so long to take off—a million contracts needed to fly here and there before publishers could sell their books in the new format.

Anticipating future media is hard. My favorite passage in Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (okay, the only passage I remember from that deeply weird work*), predicts a world of freedom in which

[L]ovely apparitions…
Shall visit us the progeny immortal
Of Painting, Sculpture, and rapt Poesy,
And arts, though unimagined, yet to be.

In the real world, I fear, “arts, though unimagined, yet to be,” require a contract addendum.


*The passage made it into the LibraryThing terms of use. I love my job.

Labels: drm, kindle, neil gaiman, rights

4 Comments:

  1. Anonymous says:

    all I want to know is if it can read aloud (where you can hear it).

  2. jasmine says:

    I want my kindle to read to me aloud

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