[Pibe-division] Baltimore Sun Op-Ed Piece from Dr. Maurer on Kindle
dandrews at visi.com
Wed Apr 15 04:36:43 CDT 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
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
In the face of this specious attack from the Authors Guild, Amazon
initially took the legally and morally correct position that the
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
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
officeofthepresident at nfb.org.
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