Daily question: Pay to read aloud books?

If cleaning up existing urban dirt by removing it artistically can be considered a crime, why not reading aloud…books?

This from the Wall Street Journal coverage of the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle 2 yesterday:

“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”

An Amazon spokesman noted the text-reading feature depends on text-to-speech technology, and that listeners won’t confuse it with the audiobook experience. Amazon owns Audible, a leading audiobook provider.


Five years ago, Aiken had also objected to Amazon’s book search:

The online retailer Amazon.com has introduced a feature that lets users search for specific words or phrases in a database of the texts of 120,000 books, drawing skepticism from an authors’ group.

The feature, called Search Inside the Book, lets anyone see a few pages of each book in which the phrase appears. Registered users can see up to 20 pages of a book at a time.

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, a writers’ trade group, regarded the practice as dubious. He said that publishers did not have the right to make the contents of books available without the authors’ permission. ”We find it a matter of serious concern,” Mr. Aiken said.

In 2002, Aiken had asked Author Guild members to “de-link” from Amazon:

Angered at Amazon.com for offering used editions of current books, the Authors Guild is urging members to remove links on their Web sites to the online retailer.

“Amazon’s practice does damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers,” the Guild said in a statement Tuesday.

“We believe it is in our members’ best interests to de-link their Web sites from Amazon. There’s no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales. It just takes a minute, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Examples abound. But Paul Aiken is a lawyer. He no doubt thinks he’s doing the job he’s paid to do.

Does the Guild need a lawyer or a businessman?

UPDATE: Amazon, itself owner of Audible and Brilliance audiobooks, caved in to allow publishers to decide if the read-aloud feature will be available on Kindle for each book.