Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 26, 2009

Facebook, Kindle, and Intellectual Property

 

Intellectual property rights are hot topics right now. While we writers have always been interested in protecting these types of rights, it came to the public eye because of Facebook’s attempted policy change to “We own all your stuff forever.” As we all know, Facebook has backed down. Score one for intellectual property rights!

 

A similar, although less publicly known issue, is the Kindle’s ability to read a book aloud. Some people have reacted to this ability indignantly, claiming it infringes on their audio book rights. I’m a writer, not a lawyer, so I can’t say legally if this is so. Morally, at the moment, I am standing with Neil Gaiman on the issue: Once you buy the book, you have the right to have it read out loud to you. 
 

What is the difference between a mom reading a book to her child, or the Kindle reading to that same child? Well, other than the emotional bonding and psychological weirdness of a child lying in bed snuggled up to a Kindle. Are we going to start suing librarians who read storybooks to children’s groups? They, presumably, do a much better job of reading it than the synthesized Kindle voice, and would therefore be a much stronger threat to audio books. Reading books aloud happens. It goes with the territory.

 

I understand that audio book makers are threatened, but until synthesized voice technology catches up with real human vocal ability, and the computer brain can interpret the words on a screen in an emotional way, there need be no conflict. My GPS unit still does not know how to pronounce the street “Woodland.” It speaks some form of gobblety-gook instead. If a computer can’t figure out such a simple word, then we are a long, long way from a Kindle reader outstripping a voice actor.

 

We are, as I mentioned in an earlier post, living in an age of media convergence. It is inevitable. We don’t have any objection to people sharing our work with each other in any way they can—we all know this drives sales. We just want to get paid a fair market value for it. These types of “conflicts” are going to arise more and more frequently, and rather than scream that we want technology to remain static, we need to find new ways to protect our rights and create a new vision of what authorship is.

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