The battle lines are being drawn here in midtown Manhattan: On one side, the Authors Guild, which recently won concessions from Amazon.com over the text-to-speech feature in its Kindle 2 e-book reader. On the other, a collection of groups including the National Federation of the Blind and the Reading Rights Coalition, protesting the Guild’s restrictions on the Kindle’s text-to-speech functionality.
Those groups are now holding a protest outside the Authors Guild headquarters — a few blocks away from our own New York office — to highlight their take on the Guild’s position as being “contrary to the principle of equal opportunity for all” and discriminatory against the 15 million Americans with print disabilities.
Spokespeople for the Authors Guild haven’t yet returned a request for comment. [UPDATE: Comments added below]
“Today’s protest is unfortunate and unnecessary,” Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken responded in a statement. “We stand by our offer, first made to the Federation’s lawyer a month ago and repeated several times since, to negotiate in good faith to reach a solution for making in-print e-books accessible to everyone. We extend that same offer to any group representing the disabled.”
“Authors want everyone to read their books. That’s why the Authors Guild, and authors generally, are strong advocates for making all books, including e-books, accessible to everyone. This is not a new position for us … [However] e-books do not come bundled with audio rights.”
Aiken also said he proposed to the NFB “the only lawful and speedy path to make e-books accessible to the print disabled on Amazon’s Kindle.”
In his statement, Aiken said the Copyright Act’s Chafee Amendment allows “users with certified physical print disabilities” to access audio versions of copyrighted books. He said that certified users who also own Kindles could activate their devices online to enable access to voice-output versions of all e-books.
“This process could be ready to go within weeks,” he said.
But the NFB said in a statement that if the Guild doesn’t change its tune, users who can’t read print “must either submit to a burdensome special registration system and prove our disabilities — or pay extra.”