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New Kindle's 'Read to Me' Spurs Copyright Review

Amazon’s new Kindle2 'read-to-me' feature that turns text to voice is under review by an author’s advocacy group in relation to potential copyright issues.

The Authors Guild told InternetNews.com this week that the technology could constitute creation of a new literature format that may or may not fall under copyright rules now protecting e-book and audio book formats.

"This is new so we are reviewing it and discussing the potential implications," said Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken. Currently an author's book copyright extends to e-book and audio formats and each are licensed for compensation purposes. An audio book typically involves a polished professional voice.

The question is whether text-to-voice technologies create a new content version requiring a copyright license or if the content created would fall under the audio book format license.

"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," Aiken noted.

Amazon told InternetNews.com there is no copyright issue involved in the use of its Nuance technology that powers the conversion capability. Amazon described it as an "experimental" feature that it plans to improve on.

"These are not audio books," said Amazon spokesperson Andrew Herdener. "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," he said.

Herdener also noted Amazon Kindle users can download audio books available at the e-book seller's site.

A handy feature

The Kindle audio feature lets users switch from reading to listening without losing their place in the book. Users can choose a male or female voice and adjust the audio speed. It can be used on anything that can be read on a Kindle, including books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and personal documents.

In a press statement released Monday at the Kindle2 launch, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stated the new function exemplifies a feature that a book can never provide.

The news comes during an ongoing debate about digital copyrights in Washington as lawmakers consider reforming the digital copyright system.

Open-Internet advocates believe copyright law has failed to keep up with Web 2.0-era content distribution. Traditional media industries believe that rampant infringement is taking money out of artists' pockets, and theirs. The topic was the subject of a conference three weeks ago sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus, a private-sector coalition that works with Congress on IT issues.

The copyright question came up just a day after Amazon unveiled Kindle2 Monday at a New York press conference. When Amazon first launched Kindle in November 2007, CEO Jeff Bezos said the intention was to make Amazon's millions of books -- as well as every book in the world -- available for its e-readers. Amazon’s book site has 230,000 offerings.

But creating and developing services around digital content is a bumpy legal road.

Just four months ago search giant Google settled a multi-million copyright dispute tied to a digital book effort four years ago.

Google was sued by the Guild and the Association of American publishers for infringing on author’s works. As part of its settlement Google will build a $34.5-million "Book Rights Registry" to help locate rights holders and ensure that they receive the money their works earn under the Google agreement.

The legal challenge hasn't dampened Google's quest to go mobile with content.

Last week the search giant Google announced it is launching a mobile version of its book search project, providing 1.5 million public domain books to readers on the go.