Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A New Exception to eBook Copyright

On July 26th, The Librarian of Congress announced new exceptions to copyright laws. These exceptions involved, among others, allowing fair use, access for the blind, and other exceptions with motion pictures on DVD, iPhones, computer programs, video games, and ebooks.
Here is what the press statement said about ebooks:
  1. Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.
The complete statement specifies that this may only be done for access for the blind, not for those with normal vision.
What this means is that publishers must offer one version of an ebook that allows text-to-speech (TTS) to read the book aloud, or the blind user can legally remove the security software (DRM) from the ebook in order to use TTS.
On the surface, this ruling seems harmless, and it is the same ruling made three years ago, but it begs a major question.
As I mentioned in my article on TTS and the Kindle 2 controversy, (link below), TTS hasn't been defined as a right or a part of a right through a lawsuit or some other legal means. Right now, no one can say with legal certainty that TTS is a right on its own, a part of the audio rights, or part of the ebook rights.
This exception to copyright infers that TTS is part of the ebook rights since the publisher must allow TTS or allow DRM be broken, but does an inference define TTS as an ebook right?
I doubt the publishing industry or The Library of Congress will be in any hurry to clarify matters since TTS has little value at the moment.
The inference also gives publishers some justification for claiming TTS as part of the ebook rights they have acquired with the real possibility that TTS may prove to be a valuable right when TTS technology improves to the point that it sounds like a human reading. Writers of older contracts will have given away this valuable right for free because it wasn't included in ebook rights negotiations.
The only possible opponent I see to preventing TTS from becoming a part of ebook rights is a group like the Authors Guild who fought with Amazon over this issue with the Kindle 2.
This may prove interesting.

To read the complete Librarian of Congress press release, go here:
To read his complete statement, go here:
My article on TTS and the Kindle 2 controversy:

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