[Nfbmo] Baltimore Sun Op-Ed Piece from Dr. Maurer on Kindle

David Andrews dandrews at visi.com
Wed Apr 15 09:36:43 UTC 2009

FYI.  from the Baltimore Sun


Bias against blind book lovers
By Marc Maurer
April 14, 2009

I love to read, and I've been doing it ever since I was able. My wife 
is also an avid reader. But my wife and I are blind, and because I 
lead the Baltimore-based
National Federation of the Blind, we have many blind friends. And 
although many of us read everything we can get our hands on, we can't 
get our hands on
very much to read.

There are services for us, of course. Government entities and 
nonprofit organizations convert books into Braille, audio, or digital 
form for our use. But
only 5 percent of all books published undergo such a conversion. A 
few more are available as commercial audio books, but these are often 
abridged, and
those that are unabridged are quite expensive.

Nowadays, a solution to the problem of reading material is 
tantalizingly within our reach: the e-book. When Amazon released its 
new Kindle 2 e-book reader
earlier this year, it announced that the device now includes 
text-to-speech software and can read e-books aloud. Those of us who 
are blind were filled
with joy at this news. For the first time in history, it would now be 
possible, we hoped, for the blind to do something that everyone else 
takes for granted:
purchase a brand new book and start reading it right away.

Our hope quickly turned to despair, however - and then to anger. The 
Authors Guild doesn't want the Kindle 2 to be able to read books 
aloud. They say this
new capability violates authors' copyrights. This argument has 
absolutely no basis in copyright law. Reading a print book aloud or 
having it read aloud
to you in the privacy of your home is not a copyright violation; the 
only difference with the Kindle 2 is that a machine rather than a 
human being is doing
the reading.

In the face of this specious attack from the Authors Guild, Amazon 
initially took the legally and morally correct position that the 
text-to-speech feature
of the Kindle 2 did not violate copyright law. But then the company 
backed down, saying it would allow authors and publishers to decide 
which books they
would permit to be read aloud by the device. Dismayed, we contacted 
the Authors Guild. It claimed it did not oppose having e-books read 
aloud to the blind,
as long as there was a national registry of blind people who would 
then be allowed to unlock the text-to-speech feature.

This is wrong. The Authors Guild has no right to discriminate against 
disabled readers by segregating us into a separate and unequal class. 
If our sighted
friends don't have to "sign up" to be permitted to read, then blind 
people shouldn't either. And once we buy a book, how we read it is 
nobody's business
but ours. When we told the Authors Guild this, they added insult to 
injury by telling us that, if we wouldn't sign up for a registry, we 
would just have
to pay extra in order to use text-to-speech. Needless to say, this is 
outrageous and reprehensible behavior from an organization of people 
who claim to
support equal access to literature by all Americans. Instead of 
facilitating the free flow of information, the Authors Guild is 
making itself the arbiter
of who is worthy of access to the printed word.

The Authors Guild isn't just discriminating against blind people. 
People with other disabilities - especially brain injuries and 
conditions like dyslexia
- would also benefit from the ability to have books read aloud to 
them electronically. Groups representing many of these people are 
joining us to protest
the position of the Authors Guild and Amazon's craven response to it.

At present, very few of us buy books in any form. If we could have 
e-books read aloud to us, however, we would happily pay for them. We 
are an untapped
market consisting of some 15 million people to which authors and 
publishers have never before had direct access. For this reason, the 
position of the Authors
Guild is not only morally repugnant but also bad business. 
Prohibiting the blind and others from reading commercially available 
e-books just means that
authors and publishers won't get our money. The guild's position 
hurts both authors and people with print disabilities.

In an age when how we get information is constantly and rapidly 
changing, it's important that people with disabilities have access to 
it in the same way
that it is important for us to have access to physical structures, 
goods and services. Amazon took an important step in the right 
direction by including
a read-aloud feature on the Kindle 2, but the Authors Guild is now 
trying to set us back. We are not going to allow them to stand in the 
doorway of the
virtual bookstore to keep us out.

Marc Maurer is president of the National Federation of the Blind. His 
e-mail is
officeofthepresident at nfb.org.

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