Cory Doctorow makes many of the points I would about the Authors’ Guild’s grumpiness over the Kindle’s text-to-speech function:
Continuing to take Blount at his word, let’s assume that he’s right on the copyright question, namely, that:
1) Converting text to speech infringes copyright
2) Providing the software that is capable of committing copyright infringement makes you liable for copyright infringement, too
1) is going to be sticky — the Author’s Guild is setting itself up to fight the World Blind Union, phone makers, free software authors, ebook makers, and a whole host of people engaged in teaching computers to talk.
But 2 is really hairy. If Blount believes that making a device capable of infringing copyright is the same as infringing copyright (something refuted by the Supreme Court in Betamax in 1984, the decision that legalized VCRs), then email, web-browsers, computers, photocopiers, cameras, and typewriters are all illegal, too.
That said, a colleague of mine made a good point: It’s sort of the Authors’ Guild’s job to stir the pot. They might be wrong — they might know they’re wrong — but it’s important to have a group trumpeting the issues of concern to their members.
I think the potential win here will be for Amazon and authors/publishers to find well-priced ways to bundle the text and (real, professional) audiobook versions. I’ve never bought an audiobook, but would consider it if the premium weren’t too high.