KEI Statement on Authors Guild attack on Kindle 2 synthetic speech functions

The Authors Guild is pressuring Amazon to modify the Kindle 2 so that the synthetic speech function can only be used with the express authorization of the owner of the copyright of a work. A coalition of organizations that represent or work with persons with reading disabilities is organizing a protest to persuade the Guild to change its position. KEI supports the protest, and makes this statement on the Kindle 2 issue:

Statement of James Love, Director, Knowledge Ecology International

“Knowing full well that not everyone can see, the Authors Guild wants the right to be seen, but not heard. By blocking synthetic speech functions in Kindle 2, the Authors Guild is showing shocking contempt for the human rights of millions of persons who are blind or have other reading disabilities, such as dyslexia. The UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities seeks to ensure that all persons “can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice,” using “accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost.” By bullying Amazon to change the technology of Kindle 2, the Authors Guild will either deny access to people who are disabled, or make them pay more. The disabling of the synthetic speech function of Kindle 2 is a gratuitous act of aggression against a vulnerable population. The Authors Guild must realize that many disabled persons are authors themselves, and as such, they need to do research and read others. By attacking disabled persons in this way, the Authors Guild is attacking everyone who would otherwise benefit from the contributions this community has the potential to offer.”

In defending themselves against criticism from the reading disabled community, the Guild offers this statement: “Book authors have traditionally authorized royalty-free copies in specialized formats intended for the visually impaired, and copyright law provides a means to distribute recordings to the blind. We can work this out.” The reality today is that most authors do not voluntarily license works in specialized formats, most published works are not accessible for millions of disabled persons, and the Authors Guild has not made efforts to “work this out.”