This is an interesting one. Via Lessig’s blog, a report that copyright holders have pressurised Amazon into removing a feature on their latest version of the Kindle e-book that reads the stored book aloud.
The Kindle is a product developed by Amazon that stores books electroncally and which includes an “E-Ink” screen that is very readable. It is one of the holy grails of publishing and a major innovation in the publishing world.
With the latest version of Kindle, Amazon added a new fearure that allows the text to be converted into speech. The feature is quite useful in that you can plug the Kindle into your MP3 jack in your car and listen to your book while driving without having to source separate audio and text versions of the book.
As Lessig pointed out, no rights of the copyright holder are violated by implementing this feature. Although it is in their interest to limit the use to which their copyright material is put, it is clear that they cannot prevent a person who has purchased their material from reading it aloud.
Just imagine if the Irish Times, for example tried to stop its readers from reading the paper aloud.
So this is a case of rights holders using their position (perhaps dominant position) to prevent innovative products from reaching the market.
This is an example of how incumbents can use their market power to prevent innovation. In Ireland we have witnessed something similar whereby the media companies have pressurised Eircom into facilitating the disconnection of alleged copyright offenders from the internet and also into blocking certain sites. Arguably Eircom is not obliged to police the internet and the license holders are entitled to pursue breaches of copyright in the normal ways. But they are using their market power to put pressure onto ISPs to act as their agents.
Is this fair? Probably not.
Is it good for the economy and business? Definitely not.