Bias against blind book lovers

Out There

April 14, 2009|By Marc Maurer

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 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.

But the Authors Guild doesn't want the Kindle 2 to be able to read books aloud. It says this new capability violates authors' copyrights. This argument has absolutely no basis in copyright law.

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 isn't just discriminating against blind people. People with other disabilities - especially brain injuries and conditions like dyslexia - would also benefit. The position of the Authors Guild is not only morally repugnant but also bad business. The guild's position hurts both authors and people with print disabilities.

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

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