What We Believe
We respect that authors have the right to control their content and be paid for their work. Reading a book aloud with text-to-speech technology, however, is not a violation of copyright. The Authors Guild’s threatened removal of text-to-speech from its books and its proposed alternatives – a burdensome registration system or extra charge for people with print disabilities to read their books – constitutes discrimination against people with print disabilities, censorship, and is bad business for authors and publishers. We want to pay for and read books like everybody else.
The removal of text-to-speech from the Kindle 2 is discriminatory because it denies people with disabilities equal access to books. The proposal of the Authors Guild that the print-disabled should have to register to read e-books or pay extra to use text-to-speech would segregate print-disabled readers into a separate and unequal category of readers.
The blind and print-disabled have for years utilized text-to-speech technology to read and access information. As technology advances and more books move from print books to books that are available in electronic formats (e-books), people with print disabilities have for the first time in history the opportunity to enjoy access to books on an equal basis with those who can read print. Authors and publishers who elect to “turn off” text-to-speech on the Kindle 2 for their e-books prevent people who are blind or have other print disabilities from reading these e-books, while people without print disabilities continue to enjoy the opportunity to read the latest e-books on the go. This is blatant discrimination against the blind and others with print disabilities. We will not tolerate it.
A separate distribution channel for people with print disabilities not only excludes us from the marketplace but is also by its very nature an act of segregation. We have learned from other civil rights movements that separate is not equal, and the same principle holds true here. When everyone else can download an e-book and begin reading it immediately, and the technology exists for blind people and others with print disabilities to do the same, “turning off” that technology is an act of segregation against people with disabilities. Sadly it is still true that in many countries and cultures around the world, people who are identified as having disabilities face stigmatization and being ostracized from their communities; the consequences for having to register one’s disability are therefore potentially severe and not merely burdensome.
Because allowing authors and publishers to “turn off” text-to-speech prevents people with print disabilities from reading their books, it is a form of censorship that violates the right of disabled readers to free and equal access to information.
In effect, authors and publishers are determining who gets to read their books, when they get to read their books, and how they can read their books. That the Authors Guild and publishers are engaging in such conduct violates a cherished principle of American life and one that authors and publishers claim to believe in—the free flow of information and ideas to all Americans.
The decision of authors and publishers to “turn off” text-to-speech is bad business because those with print disabilities will not buy books they cannot read but would willingly purchase books if they could read them.
The blind and others with print disabilities have traditionally not purchased books because hard copy print books were not usable for them. Instead they obtained reading material through alternative channels that provided little if any revenue to publishers. Most of these channels are free services that purchase a single copy of a book and then convert it into a Braille, audio, or digital form that subscribers to the service can borrow or download for free. If print-disabled consumers could purchase books for the Kindle 2 from Amazon’s site, download them, and begin reading them immediately with text-to-speech, many would happily purchase these e-books, providing revenue for the author and publisher each time a book is downloaded. Turning off text-to-speech is a bad business decision because it continues to exclude those with print disabilities from the market for books instead of providing them with incentives to purchase books rather than obtaining them through free services.
A separate registration system for readers with disabilities is not only discriminatory but also unworkable.
Registration systems for disabled readers traditionally require documentation of a disability. For many who are newly disabled, including the elderly and veterans, or for those whose precise condition has not yet been diagnosed but who nevertheless require text-to-speech to read, obtaining such documentation can be difficult and expensive. Through the Chafee Amendment, copyright law does allow for the distribution of books to disabled readers in specialized formats that cannot be accessed by other readers. But the Chafee Amendment, grounded as it is in an outdated framework of disability, may not protect all those in need of such protections. For many children with learning disabilities and processing disorders who benefit from text-to-speech, proving that they are qualified under Chafee can be difficult and expensive. A registration system is also costly and inefficient. Who would administer and operate the system? For these and many other reasons, a separate registration system is unworkable.
Text-to-speech on devices is not a copyright infringement.
The Authors Guild has argued that text-to-speech technology, which enables an automated, aural reading of text, is copyright infringement unless the copyright holder has specifically granted permission for the book to be read aloud. This position is not supported under copyright law. Text-to-speech used for private reading is no different from reading a book aloud in the privacy of the home and office.
The Authors Guild has also said it is concerned that synthetic voices are beginning to sound very humanlike and therefore threaten future audio book sales. This may or may not be true, but it does not affect the private performance rule that exists under current copyright law.
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.