Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shame on the Authors Guild!

With the exception of the Friday night dining and dancing that DH and I did to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of our Friday the 13th meeting in February 1987, I haven't had a particularly good week. It wasn't particularly bad -- we did get the new carpet installed in our guest room, but it wasn't really stellar either. It was just a random garden-variety week.

Today, however, I saw something that really irked me: the Authors Guild, a group I normally hold in high regard, has decided to slam the blind. I cannot believe it.

I don't think they intentionally set out to slam the blind; I think they intentionally set out to hate on Amazon and the new Kindle 2. They (the AG) issued a statement reminding members that audio-book sales surpassed $1 billion in 2007 and recommending that members not grant e-books rights to Amazon until they can work out ways to get more money from them, but in a noxious way:

In the meantime, we recommend that if you haven't yet granted your e-book rights to backlist or other titles, this isn't the time to start. If you have a new book contract and are negotiating your e-book rights, make sure Amazon's use of those rights is part of the dialog. 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.

That's right. The Authors Guild wants to make extra money from blind and low-vision people. I'm sorry but that is disgusting. If a person PAYS for a book and wants or NEEDS to listen to it instead of reading it with their eyes, then by golly they should be able to do it. What is the loss to the author? They still receive a royalty on the book purchase.

The National Federation for the Blind has issued a response to the Authors Guild:

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind supports all technologies that allow blind people to have better access to the printed word, including the ability of devices like the Kindle 2 to read commercial e-books aloud using text-to-speech technology. Although the Authors Guild claims that it supports making books accessible to the blind, its position on the inclusion of text-to-speech technology in the Kindle 2 is harmful to blind people. The Authors Guild says that having a book read aloud by a machine in the privacy of one’s home or vehicle is a copyright infringement. But blind people routinely use readers, either human or machine, to access books that are not available in alternative formats like Braille or audio. Up until now, no one has argued that this is illegal, but now the Authors Guild says that it is. This is absolutely wrong. The blind and other readers have the right for books to be presented to us in the format that is most useful to us, and we are not violating copyright law as long as we use readers, either human or machine, for private rather than public listening. The key point is that reading aloud in private is the same whether done by a person or a machine, and reading aloud in private is never an infringement of copyright.

I am a huge, huge reader, and so many books are never published as audio-books. I have a genetic eye condition that is likely to leave me relying on text-to-speech technology at some point in the future and this issue is incredibly important to me. In fact, the primary reason I like my Kindle is because I can use it to alter the text size to make it easier to read things without having to be stuck with large-print books. I have always supported an author's right to be paid for his or her work, but I don't see how text-to-speech violates copyright because the text would be paid for. The only logic in the Authors Guild's stance is that audio books are so much more expensive than paper texts (and they are, sometimes more than double); they really don't mind that they would be exploiting people who are already at a disadvantage.

Shame on you, Authors Guild!


tamsaunt said...

I second that!

Taminator said...

Sing it, sister! We were just talking about adaptive technology in my fifth and sixth grade classes today. The kids think it's cool that those with disabilities have some options.

Brian said...

I agree with you 100%. There is no way authors and publishers should be in the business of ripping off the blind. Or indeed any other group with special needs.

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