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Kindle 2 ‘violates copyright’, claims Authors Guild

The text-to-speech feature on Amazon's Kindle 2 ebook reader could violate copyright law, according to the Authors Guild, which represents writers and novelists in the United States.

 
The new Amazon Kindle 2.0
The new Amazon Kindle 2 can read ebook aloud Photo: GETTY

Amazon’s new electronic book reader violates authors’ copyright by including a feature that enables books to be read aloud, according to a group that represents writers.

The text-to-speech function on the Kindle 2, which was unveiled by Amazon earlier this week, has been attacked by the Authors Guild in the United States, which claims the feature infringes on audio book copyright.

“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”

However, Amazon believes that customers won’t confuse the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech capabilities with the audiobook experience, because the Kindle 2’s speaking voice is synthetic and electronic, and most audio books are read by actors and professional voices artists.

“These are not audio books,” Andrew Herdener, a spokesman for Amazon, told InternetNews.com. “Text-to-speech is software that reads the words in Kindle content. We want to give customers the option to have Kindle read to them if they are doing something else but still want to experience great reading content.”

The row centres on whether a text-to-speech reading of a book falls under existing copyright laws, or whether it constitutes an whole new medium.

Mr Aiken hinted that the Authors Guild was examining its legal position on the matter. “This is new, so we are reviewing it and discussing the potential implications,” he said.

“They [e-books and audio books] are derivative works of a book and fall under the copyright,” he explained. “This [the text to speech capability] is a new format of an audio book.”

The audio feature on the device enables users to switch from reading a book to listening to it, and users can choose from a male or female electronic “voice”, and adjust the speed at which the text is read. They can also download stand-alone audio books from the Amazon store.

The Kindle 2, which costs $359, can store more than 1,500 books, and is expected to be launched in the UK later this year.

“We are certainly planning it to be available to the international markets,” said an Amazon spokesperson. “Customers are interested in the Kindle but at the moment we have no announcement to make as to when it will be launched or the timeline involved.”

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