Random House Disabling Kindle Speech

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 09: A reporter holds the ...
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Random House now disabling text-to-speech function of Kindle e-books:

Random House has thrown the dreaded “kill switch” on about 40 of its titles, including authors such as Toni Morrison.

Cory Doctorow adds some background:

Back in February, the Authors Guild, a lobby group representing less than 10,000 writers, argued that the Kindle’s ability to read text aloud infringed on copyright (it doesn’t – and even if it does, the infringement lies not in including the feature, but rather in using it; this is the same principle that makes the VCR legal). Amazon folded and agreed to revoke the feature.

Meredith Filak points out some of the issues with restricting text-to-speech functionality:

But wait, you say. So what? Who’s affected by all this?

Well, aside from a long list of people who, for one reason or another, cannot physically utilize books, those with text-based learning disabilities are left out in the cold.

Personally, I have never like the idea of technical restrictions on what I can do with what I’ve purchased. Legal restrictions, perhaps – but technical restrictions, I can unequivocally say, make me far less likely to purchase a product. (This would be why I refuse to purchase DRM‘d music, since it limits what I can do with the product, even when that use is perfectly legal.) Sure, I get it, you have a business model to protect – but don’t expect me to appreciate your attempts to do so! (I don’t.)

Just like with DRM, the existence of “flags” to turn on/off features at the behest of someone other than me (the user/customer) is disturbing. What next? Might what I’ve purchased have more and more usability removed over time? While this might be long-term bad for sales, companies often don’t think this way, and certainly those preserving old business models (Random House!) certainly prefer to hold onto control for as long as they can, even if Amazon doesn’t like it too much.

Let’s just say that I’m even less likely to buy a Kindle now. If I ever do, I’ll be even more likely to find/create tools (within the limits of the law…) to “free” any books I might buy from restrictive DRM and “flags” like this, so as to maximize my technical ability to exercise my full legal rights (including fair use). And if I cannot find a way to do this, well, be warned publishers: I might not buy your product at all.