Do Speech-to-Text Readers Need To License Peformance Rights?

Now that the new Kindle includes an apparently listenable text-to-speech reader, the Authors Guild is crying foul that this feature exploits authors and violates their rights:

Publishers certainly could contractually prohibit Amazon from adding audio functionality to its e-books without authorization, and Amazon could comply by adding a software tag that would prohibit its machine from creating an audio version of a book unless Amazon has acquired the appropriate rights. Until this issue is worked out, Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your e-books.

In a New York Times op-ed entitled “The Kindle Swindle“, Authors Guild president Roy Blount Jr. says:

What the guild is asserting is that authors have a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s version of books.

In my view, doing so would set a frightening precedent. The speech-to-text transformation is completely mechanical. I have no doubt that the Authors Guild can come up with contract language that forbids applying transformation to their members’ content, essentially as a kind of digital rights management (DRM). But I’d be sad to see this happen. I thought we were moving beyond this stuff.

Besides, this is simply not worth fighting over. Good audio books are dramatic readings, and those will never be possible from anything we’ve seen in mechanical speech-to-text. Perhaps I’m being short-sighted on that front. But I’ll eat my words when AI proves me wrong.

I have no doubt that the author guilds in the various creative industries can find a way to codify these claims in their licensing terms. I just hope that we’re not heading for a direction where private, mechanical transformation isn’t simply part of the fair use package.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

6 replies on “Do Speech-to-Text Readers Need To License Peformance Rights?”

This could get very ugly. While I have some sympathy for the interest of writers and other copyright holders (being one myself), I can also see where this can clash with things like the Americans with Disabilities Act’s provision for “reasonable accommodation”, and some lawsuit MANDATING that the read-aloud function be allowed for all content.


This is absurd.
Does the Authors Guild also complain WRT PC-based screen readers?

Why is the rendering of text on a screen treated differently than rendering through a speaker?


In the article, Blount responds to the National Federation of the Blind:

In fact, publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability. (The federation, though, points out that blind readers can’t independently use the Kindle 2’s visual, on-screen controls.) But that doesn’t mean Amazon should be able, without copyright-holders’ participation, to pass that service on to everyone.


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