Sunday, March 1, 2009

I Can't Hear You!

I have been waiting patiently for months now for my Kindle to arrive. It did not come for Christmas when it was supposed to come because there was allegedly a back order. Then we found out that everyone in the back order queue would get a Kindle 2 to be shipped on February 24, 2009. Mine was actually shipped on 2/23 and arrived at my husband's office on 2/25. My husband was in NYC so my son was supposed to bring it home. However, due to communication slippage (I thought his Dad told him and his Dad thought I told him) my son did not bring home the Kindle. No problem! He could get it the next day.

The next day turned out to be Lelina's birth day so my son did not go to work. Here it is several days later and still no Kindle for me. My husband, who escaped the great NYC spring snow storm this morning, just went to his Venice office to retrieve his mail and my long awaited Kindle. No harm no foul, right?

But wait. In the past 3 days that I did not have my Kindle 2 I lost the right to have my ebooks turned into computer generated voice audio books. Amazon has apparently "caved" to pressure by the Author's Guild and has agreed to disable the TTS (text to speech) function on the Kindle 2 when authors or publishers want.

Typically I find myself on the author/publisher's side of this debate. I understand that making money in ancillary markets is very important and if the publishing industry needs to protect its audio book market by preventing free TTS in Kindle that should be the right holder's right. However, today I am a consumer who feels wronged. I do not get the benefit of a feature that Kindle 2 was marketed to have. I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore! I am joining Larry Lessig in the fight. What exclusive right under 17 USC section 106 does reading aloud a copyrighted work violate? Lessig says:

We're worse off with the Kindle because if the right get set by the industry that publishers get to control a right which Congress hasn't given them -- the right to control whether I can read my book to my kid, or my Kindle can read a book to me -- users and innovators have less freedom.

I suppose the right that is violated, Prof. Lessig, is the public performance right. I don't know how Kindle 2 TTS works so it may even implicate the public transmission right if the voice is delivered from the internet.

Ray Blount Jr. in the NY Times said:

But there’s another thing about Kindle 2 — its heavily marketed text-to-speech function. Kindle 2 can read books aloud. And Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights.
True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.

So what to do? How to feel? On the one hand, I absolutely adore audio books. I listen to 2 different ones everyday--one while walking and another while driving. But the voice that is reading to me makes a big difference. For example, I am listening to Oliver Sacks Musicophilia now in the car and find I cannot concentrate on the subject matter, which I find very interesting, because I hate (and I do mean hate) the reader's voice. It is a British voice which modulates from low baritone to bass on a regular basis. I want to scream at the tone of it. (and since I am in the car, sometimes I do.) However, the reader of that particular book, John Lee, is very popular with Random House's Books on Tape, having recorded 93 other works for them, both of fiction and nonfiction. Maybe he is on retainer. Or I have a "musicophilia" problem of my own and cannot appreciate a voice loved by everyone else. I prefer American voices whether male or female. I can also tolerate British women's voices better than the deep upper crust male British accent. I understand the TTS function on Kindle 2 is computer generated but "listenable" and will be produced in both male and female versions. As a consumer I am intrigued by the possibility of having Kindle read to me when my eyes are too tired. I did not expect to use the function on Kindle much but still would like the right. Then again, I spend my days arguing that a consumer does not have the right to circumvent the DRM on a DVD and back up the DVD to his or her computer. After all, I studied at the feet of the late Prof. Mel Nimmer (who always walked me to my car after my night seminar with him when I was pregnant with my son) , not Prof. Lessig and the rest of the Stanford/Berkeley copyleft group.
Still . . .

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