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« Breaking Diet News: Someone, Alert the Media! The RantsChalk One Up for the Non-Asshats »

How to Prevent SkyNet from Taking Over the World (Just Sue It)
2009.03.05 (Thu) 19:09

Kindle is a pretty neat thing — even if it doesn't herald the coming of a real-world Hitchhiker's Guide, it's got some groovy ideas going on. We're talking ubiquitous 3G connectivity for free, so you can search for and purchase new content for your Kindle anytime, anywhere — and all of this in a lightweight device about as thick as a magazine. We'll be interested in seeing where this sucker goes.

Of course, it may not go much of anywhere, if the usual crowd of marketing assholes with a profound lack of imagination has their way:

Amazon.com Inc, responding to criticism that a text-to-speech feature on its new Kindle book reader helps it sidestep royalty payments, plans to allow the audio function to be disabled.

The online retail giant pledged to modify the Kindle 2 so that authors, publishers or any holders to a novel's rights can choose whether to turn on the feature, which takes written text and converts it to human speech.

Wait a minute. So authors and publishers are bitching because — with the old technological model — authors get royalties for the sale of their print book, then again for the sale of their audio book, and so on. With the Kindle 2, you can purchase and download the book once, and then either read it or play the audio. Is that their gripe here?

Go fuck yourselves, you fucking greedy bastards.

What's amazing is that the audio capabilities of the Kindle 2 have nothing whatsoever to do with the audio editions of published books.

"Kindle 2's experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given," the firm said in a statement on Friday.

Translation: This is not an audio book edition, assholes. This is simply a text-to-speech reader — albeit, a reportedly quite excellent one — that will read the text on the screen for those users who are unable to read the text visually, whether because of where they are, what they're doing, or their own visual disabilities.

Yes, if you didn't really get what's going on here yet, they are outright stating that they want to disable the accessibility features of the technological device — screwing an entire portion of the population out of the use of a device and the products available for it. People like Jeff's grandfather, an avid reader of everything from mysteries to spy thrillers and adventure stories, who — at 96 years of age — is completely blind, but still entirely in possession of his sharp mental faculties and dying for some fucking entertainment. (The widow two floors up just doesn't do it for him, as he's related in some highly amusing anecdotes.)

Desktop operating systems have text-to-speech capabilities for the same reason: to grant visually impaired users the same access to a range of applications that any other user might have. Certainly, it would be a bit pointless to implement visually-impaired accessibility features for video editing (like Final Cut Pro or Premiere), animation applications (like Flash), and a variety of games, but in what world is it fair to deny visually impaired users the right to use text-based applications, which only require that a text-to-speech feature be put into play?

That is, in a nutshell, what assholes like Roy Blount Jr., president of the Author's Guild, are trying to do. Hey, Roy: fuck you, you myopic dickhead. And that's coming from authors (and yes, with real-life, published work — not "just" a blog).

Unfortunately, Amazon is caving to the pressure.

"...we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat."


On Friday, Amazon said rights-owners will be allowed to decide -- title by title -- whether to enable the function.

This is bullshit. It's one more example of people simply not getting that technology marches on. Either get with the program, or end up like the fucking RIAA, fruitlessly and futilely suing their own consumers in absurd efforts to try to stop the march of technology, a march that they have literally no hope of stopping.

We just watched an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher the other day that exhibited the same asinine misunderstanding of how the fucking world works (not that this is anything new from Bill — we agree with him on some issues, but he's an incredibly fucking misguided blowhard on many others). Bill and his panel discussed the "newspapers are dying" issue, where newspaper publishers are shutting down left and right as they realize they just can't maintain the sales they once commanded, and therefore can't demand the advertising fees they once enjoyed.

Listen — sure, every city used to have at least one daily paper. They also each had an extensive network of horse-drawn carriages to get people around. But then we developed those wondrous horseless carriages — you know, cars — and the horse and driver simply became obsolete. Fuck, if that culture had held out a bit longer, and the advent of automobiles happened today, the fucking Horse and Driver Union would be bitching about unfair labor practices, vociferously angling to ensure that cars aren't allowed access to the same infrastructure and locations they have a stranglehold on.

And that's fucking ridiculous. Technology innovates; society advances. We help ourselves by increasing the means and methods available to us that enable the accomplishment of any and every human undertaking, whether it is getting from point A to point B, or simply reading the goddamn news.

The newspaper organizations are shutting down? No they're not — at least, not the smart ones — and they don't have to. It would be utterly asinine to figure that, because people aren't buying newspapers anymore, they aren't interested in the news. And, of course, that asinine assertion isn't even close to what's actually happening — people are simply finding other outlets through which to learn what's going on in the world.

Bill Maher complains of bloggers not being "real" news sources, because they find their news from other sources. (We'll forego the obvious retort, that "unofficial" press are, in fact, barred from many events that would give bloggers such direct access to news — it's true, but irrelevant to our point.) However, what does Bill think is happening? Is he implying that bloggers are heading to the corner, patting an adorably bucktoothed kid in a checkered cap on the head, and swiping a thick newspaper from him, before heading back home to peruse the paper and type on their Magical Computing Machines about what the printed news has to say?

Come on. Bloggers, like most modern folks these days, get their news from the Internet. Not the paper, not television, not radio — those are supplements, to be sure, and you could certainly find some news there. But all of the major media organizations operate websites, often with subscription services, and offer the same exact news, reported in the same exact articles, on this incredible, newfangled Internet thing. The only terrible drawback to the online versions is that, instead of having the early edition or the late edition being delivered at specific times — which leads to stories missing deadlines, research being incomplete, and some news otherwise falling through the cracks — the online news can be updated continually, all day, as events warrant, in real time. Oh, wait — that's a good thing. A really, really, really fucking good thing. Our bad.

Who cares if they stop making hard copies of the news? Why do we need them? Environmental concerns aside, we know that we personally are in the process of digitizing everything in our lives: from old photos, to elementary school projects, to VHS tapes, to handwritten notes that have particular meaning to us. We're utilizing technology to scan, convert, and otherwise preserve the contents of media which have a very finite lifespan. The fact that some of our VHS tapes have even survived this long is incredible — we're certainly not going to wait much longer and lose the contents on this easily destructible medium forever. With all of our memorabilia in JPG, PDF, MP3 and AVI form, we'll be quite happy. And if we ever want a hard copy — it does occasionally happen — we'll simply print it the fuck out (or write it to DVD, or whatever the appropriate hard medium happens to be, by content and at the time).

The point is, this technology is for our benefit. And the idea of a world where Jeff's grandfather has to pay extra for a book because of the fickle whim of fate that struck him blind in his senescence is not only absurd, but maddening — it pisses us off.

Excuse us, Roy Blount Jr., you impeccable prick, but what exactly is the difference between our buying a Kindle book to read for ourselves, and then playing it through the text-to-speech reader for Grandpa...and buying a book to read for ourselves, and then reading it out loud to Grandpa? Other than the fact that we spend over $300 to grab the technology, which then gives us some more free time since we aren't required to read the book for Grandpa ourselves? (Hey, we like spending time with Grandpa, but we also have those pesky "earn a living" and "raise a family" things to take care of.)

The difference is that you are pretending that there is any difference. You are pretending that completely separate technology, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the publication or sale of your books, is something you can and should control to the detriment of your consumers. And that, motherfucker, is what makes you an asshole, if not a downright Luddite.

We want Amazon to stand up against this shit (though they aren't). We would love to see the court case on this one — and we'd love to see Amazon's defense attorneys question assholes like Roy Blount Jr. on the essential difference between a wheelchair ramp allowing disabled people access to a movie theater and a text-reading feature allowing disabled people access to printed material — or better yet, the essential difference between closed captioning in movies for the deaf, and text-to-speech book reading devices for the blind. Because that kind of challenge would serve Roy's gang a big, steaming pile of shut the fuck up.

The whole point of text-to-speech is to allow those who can't easily (or at all) see the printed word to enjoy it just the same. They're not buying audio books — books that are performed by an actor or the author, for which more resources are put to use (including the expense of paying the reader and the sound engineers), and which justifiably command another expense on the part of the consumer. They're not creating a "derivative work" — and the fact that we have to point this out at all betrays a glaring ignorance of copyright law on the part of these jerks. (What, are we creating "derivative works" every single time we read Where the Wild Things Are to the kids before bed? Fucking morons.) And it's not like the text-reading technology is going to replace audio books — there's no "performance" being given, and the folks who enjoy audio books (we've enjoyed some ourselves) aren't necessarily listening because they can't see (though that was one of the few limited options up until technology offered text-to-speech), but rather because they want to hear David Ogden Stiers's stentorian tones narrating Jack Ryan's adventures. The automated text-reader isn't going to be able replace David Ogden Stiers. Hell, it couldn't replace Larry Linville.

People using the text-to-speech feature are simply enjoying the printed edition itself in the only way available to them. (And don't start in on Braille — plenty of folks, like Grandpa, don't go blind until they're much, much older, and don't have the time or resources to learn Braille. Besides which, that would still make it virtually impossible for us to share a copy of a book with Grandpa.)

It's time for the marketing assholes, and product creators that just don't get it, to get a big dose of reality. If your business model doesn't seem to be working in a newly technologized industry — whether in news, as consumers head from paper to digital, or in books, when manufacturers provide easier access across a range of markets (including the disabled consumer) — then it's not the technology that needs to be changed. It's your fucking business model.

A business that should survive, will. The people in charge will embrace technology, and adapt to it — adopt it, even. By understanding and accepting what technology is, and what it does for all of us, these smarter folks don't fight against the technology, but realize how they can work with it and still succeed in a thriving and ever-growing marketplace.

And that's your only choice. Authors like Cory Doctorow (a pretty progressive futurist) and others get this. You can't sit still and expect the old paradigms to hold true in a world that no longer resembles the old one on any but the most superficial levels. You can see this in the slow but sure evolution of pages on the Internet: once upon a time, everything was as static as the printed page. Bit by bit, interactivity has increased and exploded to the point where, while the content and the intent in delivering that content remain the same, the mode of delivery — the medium — is growing more and more alien to what we would see on a piece of paper.

Hasta la vista, Rosebud...
You can't avoid technology by legislating against it; and you can't make your business succeed by legislatively bullying new technologies. Come on: who do you really think would win in a cage match between William Randolph Hearst and the Terminator?

Just because Guttenberg invented the printing press, it doesn't follow that you have to clamp down on mass-produced copies, disallowing them for fear of robbing a creator (or the creator's fucking middlemen) of their livelihood. You adapt; you grow; you understand the differences, and you exploit them just as easily as you exploited the original model.

Anything else simply demonstrates your complete lack of imagination. And coming from the president of the "Author's Guild," that's pretty fucking pathetic.

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[  Filed under: % Computers & the Internet  % Government & Politics  % Media & Censorship  % Science & Technology  % Two Percent Toons  ]

Comments (4)

Jason Spicer, 2009.03.06 (Fri) 00:27 [Link] »

I eagerly await the Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against the copyright holders on this one.

Bronze Dog, 2009.03.06 (Fri) 23:46 [Link] »

Well said. I wasn't even aware of the issue, and every point you make strikes me as cogent.

Jurjen S., 2009.03.12 (Thu) 19:37 [Link] »

The whole problem is summarized by the fact that the organization calls itself the Authors' Guild. Jean Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith had it in for guilds back in the day, on the basis that they hampered free trade (the primary purpose of a cartel, which is what guilds are) and stifled technological innovation. They were rightly consigned to the scrapheap of history alongside feudalism (though they managed to hang on longer). Seems Mr. Blount didn't get that bit in history class.

Ryan, 2009.03.19 (Thu) 18:54 [Link] »

Ah, you mentioned the RIAA. Fuck them.

In my business, we've found that the records we make are tools to bring folks to live shows where they spend their hard earned money to:

1. See a kick ass coupla rock bands
2. Buy our T-shirts, teddy bears, caps, keychains and any other chotcke (sp?) piece of shit we can slap our logo on.

That's where the money in music is; the artists have the right idea now the record companies need to catch up.

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