Friday, February 27, 2009

Why I agree with the Author's Guild lawsuit

The new Author's Guild lawsuit regarding Amazon Kindle's text-to-speech feature is quite controversial. Many who supported the Guild when it sued Google over digitization of books under copyright and won are now not supporting it on this fight. His eminence (at least to me) Neil Gaiman has weighed in, saying that he doesn't understand why the Guild opposes free text-to-speech, since it's the equivalent of having the right to read it aloud himself. Gaiman's agent argues the opposite, that Amazon is infringing on quite valuable audiobook rights. That's the Guild's position as well.

Why do I support the Guild? Simple. I don't think we're talking about the technology as it exists today. Text-to-speech at the moment is still robotic and largely uninteresting -- it would never compete against your favorite readers of audiobooks. But what happens when it gets better? What happens when you can even tweak it to sound like your preferred gender, age, and region of the country? What happens when it's so good you think you're hearing a live person read?

What happens is that the book's author, who under today's rules would have earned a nice profit from that audio version of the book, won't get anything. I think authors make precious little enough as it is. And though I enjoy my Kindle, I think Amazon is dead wrong on this one. Unpopular position? Yes, I know. But that's where I am.

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