Even Wil Wheaton chimed in, in his capacity as a narrator of audiobooks, providing a wonderful demonstation of the distinct difference between an audiobook and a digital book rendered into audio by text-to-speech software.
The scandal itself was instigated by the Authors Guild issuing a warning to all member authors to reserve digital rights to their books when negotiating contracts with publishers. The gist of this is that this association was recommending authors not permit digital publication of their works at all, because the text-to-speech software available was a potential violation of often lucrative audiobook rights.
The consensus among most authors--at least those I hung around with--was that the robotic voice of a computer is no substitute for a professionally narrated audiobook, and that TTS is a reading tool, not a book format. That at its essence, TTS was not even the equivalent of a parent reading a book aloud to a child, or a family member or friend reading aloud to a convalescent or visually impaired person. TTS is an imperfect tool for reading used mostly by the visually impaired out of necessity.
As a caveat, I will say I am a staunch defender of intellectual property rights. As a copyright holder, it annoyed me to no end to see conversations on pirate forums between people who had uploaded or downloaded my books illegally, or who were looking for illegal access to them because, "OMG, I LOVE HER WORK! SHE IS SO AWESOME, AND ALMOST NO ONE WRITES ANYTHING SIMILAR! SO CAN'T SOMEONE HERE PLEASE HELP ME READ HER WORK WITHOUT ME HAVING TO PROVIDE HER THE MONETARY INCENTIVE TO KEEP PRODUCING IT, OR THE FINANCIAL WHEREWITHAL TO ENABLE HER TO CONTINUE WRITING?? BECAUSE I LUV HER SO MUCH, I WANT HER TO NOT PROFIT FROM THE WORK SHE DOES THAT I LUV!!!" Can you say "counterproductive"?
I have never objected to book sharing between actual friends, and neither has my publisher. Their policy has always been something along the lines of, [paraphrasing] "If you love a book so much you want to email it to two of your buddies, well, we're not going to complain about that, because sharing an author's work in that way leads to more exposure for the author and his/her future works and backlist. However, given the ease with which one copy of a digitally published book can turn into a billion copies, we do take issue when a reader uploads a book to a website to 'share' with 8000 of their closest friends. We do not encrypt our ebooks with DRM, because this interferes with ease of use, and only penalizes the people who purchase our books--the people who are doing the responsible thing--and creates a product whose illegal format is superior to the legal one. We do not force our responsible and law-abiding readers to pay for the conduct of those who choose to pirate by inflating our prices, because this only penalizes those who reward the authors who create these works and the publishers who bring them to market, and incentivizes piracy. We ask that you respect our authors' copyrights, so they can keep writing wonderful books and we can keep providing them to you at a very reasonable cost."
This policy is one of the reasons I chose this particular publisher, as was their market pricing scheme. As an author, I want people to read my work. I want them to be able to read it without the annoyance of software designed to limit or place restrictions on their ability to do so. I want them to pay a fair price for this work, and have had a number of criticisms of traditional publishers' handling of pricing and rights management when it came to the brave new world of digital publishing. I want anyone in the world to have access to a legal copy of my books--digital rights need to be worldwide, not regional. And they need to be TTS enabled, so those whose eyes don't work so well, or those who need their hands free while they read, can enjoy them as much as anyone else, without having to wait for them to be rendered into audio or Braille by a charity, or be released in expensive audiobook format.
And in keeping with my stand on my own IP rights, I do not engage in pirating. I don't download anything illegally, and I remind my friends and family that illegally downloading pirated material--whether it's music, software or movies--only disincentivizes the creation of the very works they enjoy. If you like, say, hard sci-fi movies but the demographic most likely to enjoy them refuses to ever pay for them, fewer of those kinds of movies will be made. That's just the way these things work.
Wil Wheaton's demonstation of the differences between a narrated audiobook and a digital book read by TTS was striking, but essentially irrelevant. It wouldn't matter to me whether TTS sounded like a robot with a poor understanding of pronunciation, or if it sounded like Morgan Freeman on his best day. Using TTS is not "making a copy" any more than a parent reading to a child is. Using TTS is not violating audiobook rights any more than using the zoom function on your Kindle is violating Large Print rights. If someone purchases my book and then has their computer, their mother, their friend or his future android personal valet read it aloud to them because it is impossible or inconvenient for them to read it themselves, or because they just feel like it, I'm happy. To me, TTS is like a pair of glasses. It's a tool that enables people to enjoy work they've lawfully purchased from the creator and therefore have every right to enjoy. If my publisher had disabled TTS on their books, I would have parted ways with my publisher.
In my incarnation as a blogger and vlogger, I've been approached by a number of people asking permission to transcribe my vlogs or translate them or my blog posts into other languages. I suppose I ought to put a notice somewhere public, that states what my reply invariably is--that they are free to transcribe or translate my material, or upload it elsewhere, in whole or in part, as long as they provide a link to the original material. I have given permission for several websites--including the Good Men Project and A Voice for Men--to republish my work as they desire, so long as they don't edit it, and as long as they link readers back to my blog or channel. I have given permission for anyone to mirror my videos.
While I don't charge people to view my advocacy material, I do receive a substantial income from it through voluntary donations--a larger income than my four published books bring in. That income is not vital to ME, but it is vital to my ability to continue to produce this material in a consistent and timely way. I can always get more hours on the schedule at my job, if I need to. I could write that final 4000 words of that book I have on hold and submit it to my editor. I could up the rent my tenant pays. I could do any number of things to increase my income.
What the donations do is allow me to reduce my hours at my day job to the point where I can now spend more hours a day involved in MRM advocacy and gender analysis than I do in any other single pursuit.
The donations are important to me. My IP rights are important to me. But more important to me in this context is that people hear what I have to say. This is my work, and though I have a deep respect for any author's intellectual property rights, I'm decidedly moderate about the issue when it comes to my own. I have given permission for my work to be reproduced in other places online, or in other formats, and that is my right, to do or not as I please. Other authors may feel differently, and I respect their right to feel that way, and do as they please with their own IP rights.
So I want you all to keep that in mind when I weigh in on the latest Atheism+ fiasco. Here is Justin Vacula's account of it, complete with screencaps of conversations, and exposure of the tactics used by the feminist-leaning social justice avengers of Atheism+.
What these social justice avengers are saying is that they have every right to violate other people's rights to their own intellectual property. That they have every right to violate copyright law. They have every right to republish another author's work in its entirety--without that author's permission and against that author's wishes. And anyone who opposes them in their unilateral actions--even if it's in an attempt to keep them on the right side of the law so they don't end up prosecuted or sued--is an able-ist and a shit-heel.
I'm not an able-ist. I spoke out vehemently against the Authors Guild's stance on the TTS issue, because it was not only legally unfounded, but because it was morally repugnant. It is as morally repugnant to prevent people from using TTS as it is to tell a mother she cannot read a bedtime story to her child because she's violating someone's copyright, or to tell a Kindle user that the zoom function a violation of Large Print rights, or to tell a far-sighted person to take off their glasses while reading or else they're in violation of an author's rights, or to say that a friend sitting across a table translating a podcast into American sign language is plagiarism.
But what the Atheism+ Scribe people are proposing doing is publishing other people's intellectual property without their permission, and even against their express protests, outside of fair use provisions. They are proposing publishing other people's works, without permission, and even against their expressly stated wishes. This attitude could land them in a world of legal hurt, and yet an individual warning them, using very reasonable and non-confrontational language, of this very thing is cast as a bully and an able-ist.
What they're saying is that the law does not apply to them, because they say so. Because their ends are just, in their opinion, their means don't matter. And how dare anyone say that we can't or shouldn't or might be courting a law suit! We can't hear you, lalalalalala!
I actually hope that Atheism+ Scribe ignores Anna's warnings. The sooner these people get their asses sued, the sooner they'll be brought back down to earth where the rest of us have to live. You know, us people who understand that we are not the arbiters of other people's rights, and that our right to have our say ends the moment it materially harms another person.
All I can say is holy shit. The hubris, it is stunning.