26 February 2009

Why Roy Blount Jr. is evil...

Can Amazon's Kindle 2 read books to you?

Many of us who work in the field of literacy have been waiting for this moment. We've been waiting for Text-To-Speech to go fully mainstream, because, as this happens, access to information, to our culture, is no longer limited to the elite, to those with excellent alphabetic decoding skills, to the recipients of high-quality education.

I, as an author, refused to make my book Kindle-available before, because it was not an accessible format. I opted instead for an accessible PDF version available through Lulu.com. But now, I'll probably find the time to make a Kindle2 version possible.

But other authors feel differently. A group of self-appointed "copyright defenders" called the "Authors Guild" deeply objects to the expansion of reading. Led by their president, an author of the kind of books which lie near toilets across America (we might call this "second rate blog quality") named Roy Blount, Jr. they are insisting that Text-To-Speech systems violate their copyright. And while doing that, Mr. Blount decides that he is an expert on disability - and will (I guess personally) diagnose those worthy of assistance.

Let's "read" what Mr. Blount had to say in The New York Times:

"In fact, publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability. (The federation, though, points out that blind readers can’t independently use the Kindle 2’s visual, on-screen controls.) But that doesn’t mean Amazon should be able, without copyright-holders’ participation, to pass that service on to everyone.

"The guild is also accused of wanting to profiteer off family bedtime rituals. A lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation sarcastically warned that “parents everywhere should be on the lookout for legal papers haling them into court for reading to their kids.”

"For the record: no, the Authors Guild does not expect royalties from anybody doing non-commercial performances of “Goodnight Moon.” If parents want to send their children off to bed with the voice of Kindle 2, however, it’s another matter."

So, hear the Authors Guild clearly, despite their "denials": If the Authors Guild decides that you are "disabled enough" you can have Text-To-Speech. And if your parents are literate and able to read to you in English the Authors Guild will allow you access to bedtime stories. That is quite nice of them, isn't it?

Soon, we can expect, Roy Blount, Jr. will oppose libraries, because, if you can't afford the book, you can't have it either. Don't think so? This is a guy who who'll pull the bedtime stories away from kids of parent's with reading problems. He's quite capable of doing anything.

Listen. I wish my book was making a lot of money. I really do. But what I wish most is that people were reading it. That's why I wrote it - because I had a story I wanted to tell.

Yes, I'd like to get paid for it. But even if I did, sorry, I don't expect one piece of creation to support me forever. So copyright is a good thing, but it should never be a lifetime thing or an absolute thing. Right now Roy Blount, Jr.'s Am I Pig Enough for You Yet? already enjoys far more legal protection than medicines which take billions of dollars and years of research by thousands to create. Now I'm no fan of "big pharma" but medications get far less patent protection time than books get copyright protection time, and pharmaceuticals are passed out for free far more often than books are.

If we believe that books are important, and I think all authors should think that, then we want people to read. And it should make no difference at all how that book is read. If someone wants to buy The Drool Room, on paper or by download, or - if I get it together - on Audiobook or Kindle2 sometime this year, I don't care whether they decode the printed words, or listen to it on an electronic device, or have a friend read it to them, or touch Braille with their fingers. I don't care if they pass the book to a friend when they're done, I don't care if six people are in the car while it is being read, and any author who does is no artist in my mind, and is no supporter of literacy.

Access to information is one of the most important social justice issues of this century. And access is constantly being threatened by short-sighted, money-deperate people like the RIAA and the Authors Guild. So here's what I'd like you to do: Obviously, boycott Roy Blount, Jr.'s books. And someone, please, find and post an Authors Guild membership list so we can expand the boycott and increase the pressure.

Because if we can't even have authors united in supporting universal access to literacy, we'll never convince educators.

- Ira Socol

here's a shorter blog argument.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't find a member list, but they do have a list of members' websites: