Protesters confront Author's Guild over Kindle text-to-speech

By taking Amazon to task over the text-to-speech function of the Kindle 2, the Author's Guild has put itself in an undesirable position. Whereas the feature was originally open for use on any text contained within the device, the Author's Guild is now pressuring Amazon into letting publishers decide on an individual basis whether a book should be enabled with "voice performance" abilities.

At the end of March, twenty groups representing visually and cognitively impaired individuals, such as the American Council of the Blind, the International Dyslexia Association, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, joined together and formed the Reading Rights Coalition to oppose the action of the Author's Guild.

The Coalition's mission statement says, "Sadly, the Authors Guild does not support equal access for us. The Guild has told us that to read their books with text-to-speech we must either submit to a special registration system (that not all may qualify for and that would expose disability information to all future eBook reader manufacturers) and prove our disabilities -- or pay extra."

This week, the coalition, led by the National Federation of the Blind protested in front of the Offices of the Author's Guild in New York, shouting "Stop the Greed, We Want to Read!"

The Guild issued a statement following the protests, explaining its position: "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."

If the guild is trying to gain sympathy, it will have a very difficult time when it pits "economic rights" against civil rights.

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