Kindle 2 does text-to-speech, but is it legal?


If you’ve surfed into Amazon in the last week or so, you’ve no doubt been pummeled by ads for the new Kindle 2 (which is apparently not even available yet, but anyway…).

However, a new feature in the Kindle 2 is that it can convert text-to-speech on the fly, taking any document in the device and reading it aloud in a computerized voice. There are charges that this is copyright infringement, that it is effectively the same as bundling an audio book in with the electronic text version. The Authors Guild is leading the charge that this is illegal, that it will cut into sales of audio books. From Yahoo Tech:

The challenge revolves around audiobooks, which are treated separately from printed material from a copyright standpoint. A retailer can’t record a copy of a book on a CD and sell it or bundle it along with a novel without paying a separate fee, just as buying a copy of an audiobook doesn’t entitle you to a free copy of the printed version.

Amazon (natch) disputes this, as do some legal experts. Personally, I can’t imagine that it will cut into audio book sales that much and as you know I’m no fan of the Kindle. For one thing, if I were a user of audio books I don’t think I’d want to listen to the computerized voice for an entire book. I can see if you forget your glasses you might use this feature, but really I can’t imagine anyone much WANTING to use it all that much. If you typically use audio books, wouldn’t you prefer to listen to a human voice reading your book to you? I just don’t see it as a substitute.

I’m sure there are many aspects of this I haven’t thought of. Opinions?

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5 thoughts on “Kindle 2 does text-to-speech, but is it legal?

  1. Hey Astro Sis,

    I don’t know enough regarding the legalities of such things to say whether or not what amazon is doing is legal or not. But I can see the point that the audio book industry is making against it. Once they add voice, (even if it’s a boring computer one) isn’t it then an audio book?

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  2. Hiya Astro Sis,

    I suppose it is. Maybe they could have two versions of the thing: One for those who want to use it to play audio books, and one that’s strictly a text reader. I guess I’m not really envisioning a huge demand for the audio on this thing. If you’re a user of audio books, wouldn’t you just buy the audio book instead? I’ve never used an audio book, so I’m not sure who does and why (apart from sight-impaired persons). I don’t really understand how big of a threat this is to the audio book market. I suppose it will come down to the principle of the thing.

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  3. Indeed, after they tried to strong-arm all the self-published authors into using their in-house publishing business, BookSurge. I know what you’re saying, Amazon seems to be re-writing all the rules to their own benefit. I am not defending what they’ve done with the Kindle (I don’t have one and don’t plan to get one). I’m just *hoping* that publishers are worrying needlessly, but it IS Amazon we’re talking about.

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