Amazon in trouble over Kindle 2's audio functionality?

By Justin Mann on February 12, 2009, 8:49 AM
Amazon’s newly released Kindle 2 certainly has a wide array of features. One of the more interesting ones, at least from their perspective, is the text-to-speech functionality which lets the device read books to people – a boon to the visually impaired or disabled people and useful for situations where reading is difficult or impossible. Some people, however, see that feature in a different light and are apparently even threatening to sue over it.

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, is claiming that Amazon has no legal right to include such a feature inside the Kindle 2, claiming it is a copyright violation. He asserts that turning a print book into an audio book through the Kindle is entirely different from just making it available as text, and thus Amazon needs to pay for separate rights. Is it really that simple, however? Amazon disagrees claiming that text-to-speech technology, like what the Kindle includes, is a far cry from someone dictating from a book to create an audio recording. Text to speech, they argue, does not constitute an audio book.

Amazon does have a valid point. Text to speech functionality has been included by default with many operating systems, and serves primarily as an aid to the visually impaired. Would someone really listen to an entire book through the Kindle 2's text-to-speech function? Could Amazon really face a lawsuit over such a seemingly trivial inclusion?




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