The Shatzkin Files

TTS and audio “rights”

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There are credible voices in the publishing world saying that the text-to-speech capability of Amazon’s new Kindle 2 constitutes a threat to the value of authors’ audio rights

The most extreme interpretation of the Authors Guild position is that protecting audio rights would extend to prohibiting parents from reading to their kids!

But the most recent voice taking issue on behalf of authors, Roy Blount, Jr. in this morning’s NY Times, explicitly rejects that “extreme” position.

Although I’m not a lawyer and even before Blount’s piece I didn’t take the hysteria about “reading to kids” terribly seriously, I find the authors’ basic position so logically dubious that it couldn’t possibly NOT be legally dubious. On the increasingly famous Brantley list, where serious minds gather to discuss these issues, I was inspired to respond to the idea this way:

Amazon is not selling an audio rendition. Amazon is selling an ebook file, which there is no disputing their right to do. And they are selling a TTS program which can convert any text to automated audio, which they ALSO clearly have the right to do. It is the consumer that “mixes the cocktail” in his/her own home. So, whom are you going to sue?

I then postulated that it was only a matter of time before there was an iPhone app that could do TTS, and it would be sold or given away separately from any specific ebook content. Then what?

Joe Wikert is promulgating the same notion. He raises the concept of an app on the iPhone that does TTS. How long can it be before there are three of them available at the App Store? Or ten?

Acceptable TTV (text-to-voice), a qualitative step up from TTS, is right around the corner. (Blount makes clear this morning that he knows that.) So you’ll be able to sample Grandma’s voice and have her read to Junior. Or you can sample John Houseman’s voice and have him read to you! (Actually, I think I’d go for Red Barber…) This opens up a whole new opportunity for lawsuits, of course, because now you’ll have famous names (voices) reading to you without paying them royalties!

Publishers and authors better start planning for the day when audio income joins book club revenue on the legacy revenue scrapheap, both done away with by technology that made the old model obsolete. There are a few years to go before this happens, but it is looking inevitable.

So it is almost right to say that the Kindle is a threat to authors’ audio rights revenue. What is precisely correct is that technology is posing the threat. It does that. The blacksmith’s job wasn’t protected from the effects of the car. And the produced audiobook isn’t protected  from technology either.

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  • Digital instruments also changed radically the landscape for musicians. To use a “real” violin instead of a digital sound of a violin in a studio is today a luxury. Musicians were not happy, but had to accept that and adapt to new context. I totally agree with you on this question !
    I was looking today, doing some benchmark, to many learning language websites. Some are now currently using text to speech, and the quality is much better than it was some years ago. I noted that in the same website, TTS is used to get the audio of some texts – undestanding written language (here : ) and recorded voices used for only audio based activities – undestanding spoken language (here : ). TTS it’s still not perfect. Just usefull…

  • Oh, the worms are out of the can. But, I kind of like these worms. And, for all the uncertainty surrounding rights and technology, two things are for sure — talented programmers, UI designers, and rights attorneys will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.

    Now I’m off to find some quality audio samples of George Clooney. Want to be prepared for when that TTS is ready — I imagine I’ll get through my nightime reading list much more quickly with George reading to me…;)

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