Author’s Guild Responds to Protests

I received the below email from the Author’s Guild in response to the Reading Rights Coalition protest held yesterday in NYC.

Based on their statement it  still appears that the definition of audio rights will have to first be agreed upon. As someone who has been reading both books using TTS and audio narration, I have to say there is no comparison. TTS is simply the communication medium available to those of us who are considered print impaired. Audio narrated books on the other hand  are performances of the author’s work.

 

The guild seems to be very eager to renegotiate contracts. They accuse Amazon of taking advantage of author’s audio rights in order to take a position in the E-Book market, but it seems the Guild is using this to force renegotiations.

 

I understand the guild’s focus is the welfare of their writer’s and Amazon is a business out to make money, but damn folks, all we want is equal access to books!

 

Something is wrong with this picture!

 

Author’s Guild response – April 7, 2009:

Dear Mr. Reid,

Thank you for your phone call today.  We issued the following statement today in response to the protest:

Authors want everyone to read their books.  That’s why the Authors Guild, and authors generally, are strong advocates for making all books, including e-books, accessible to everyone.  This is not a new
position for us.  For decades, we’ve informed new authors that the expected and proper thing to do is to donate rights so that their works
can be  accessible to the blind and others.  In October, we were praised by the National Federation of the Blind for the settlement of our lawsuit against Google, which promises "to revolutionize blind
people’s access to books," according to the Federation’s press release.

E-books do not come bundled with audio rights.  So we proposed to the Federation several weeks ago the only lawful and speedy path to make e-books accessible to the print disabled on Amazon’s Kindle:

1. The first step is to take advantage of a special exception to the Copyright Act known as the Chafee Amendment, which permits the blind and others with certified physical print disabilities access to special versions, including audio versions, of copyrighted books.  Technology makes this step easy:  certified users of existing Kindles could activate their devices online to enable access to voice-output versions of all e-books.  This process could be ready to go within weeks.

2. Since step one would help only those with sufficient eyesight to navigate the current Kindle, we encourage Amazon or another e-book
device manufacturer to make an e-book device with voice output capability that would be truly blind-accessible, with a Braille
keyboard and audible menu commands.

3. Finally, we need to amend existing book contracts to allow voice-output access to others, including those with learning
disabilities, that don’t qualify for special treatment under the Chafee Amendment.  There’s no getting around the need to amend contracts:  for the past 16 years, standard publishing contracts with most major trade
publishers do not permit publishers to sell e-books bundled with audio rights.  Fortunately, publishing contracts are amendable, and can (once terms have been negotiated) be handled in a systematic fashion.

The Authors Guild will gladly be a forceful advocate for amending contracts to provide access to voice-output technology to everyone.  We will not, however, surrender our members’ economic rights to Amazon or anyone else.  The leap to digital has been brutal for print media generally, and the economics of the transition from print to e-books do not look as promising as many assume.  Authors can’t afford to start this transition to digital by abandoning rights.  Knowing how difficult the road ahead is for the already fragile economics of authorship, we are particularly troubled at how all this arose, with Amazon attempting to use authors’ audio rights to lengthen its lead in the fledgling e-book industry.  We could not allow this rights grab to happen.  Audio books are a billion dollar market, the rights for which are packaged separately from — and are far more valuable than — e-book rights.

That said, our support for access by all disabled readers is steadfast, and we know how to make it happen.  The Federation rightly heralded the settlement in Authors Guild v. Google.  That class-action settlement represents a quantum leap in accessibility to books for the disabled. It will, if approved, make far more books than ever before, potentially tens of millions of out-of-print books, accessible to not only the blind, but to people with any type of print disability.

Through the Google settlement, we have a solution for out-of-print book accessibility.  We’re confident we can arrive at a solution for in-print books as well. 

Today’s protest is unfortunate and unnecessary.  We stand by our offer, first made to the Federation’s lawyer a month ago and repeated several times since, to negotiate in good faith to reach a solution for making in-print e-books accessible to everyone.  We extend that same offer to
any group representing the disabled.

—————

Feel free to contact the office if you have any questions or would like
further information.

The Authors Guild
31 East 32nd St., 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016
212-563-5904; fax: 212-564-5363

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