We have two major developments to bring you up to date on. The first development involves Amazon's Kindle 2 reading device and the second pertains to our freelance class-action settlement (a settlement entirely independent of the settlement in our lawsuit against Google). Please feel free to forward and post this message.
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Amazon Reversal on Text to Speech on the Kindle 2
At the end of the business day on Friday, Amazon announced that it would allow publishers (and thereby many authors) to block text-to-speech audio functionality on a title-by-title basis for its Kindle 2 reading device.
This is a good first step. Amazon's Kindle 2 can convert text to audio through text-to-speech (TTS) software, making it a combination e-book reader and low-quality audiobook device. (The quality of the audio will improve, of course, as TTS software is refined.) Amazon's initial implementation of Kindle 2 would have added audio playback to your e-book regardless of whether Amazon had properly acquired audio rights. For most of you, Amazon's announcement means that it will now respect your contractual right to authorize (or not) the addition of computer-generated audio to your e-books sold for the Kindle. We will be sending recommendations to you shortly on your TTS audio rights.
One important consideration in those recommendations will be to ensure that visually impaired people have access to this technology. Book authors have traditionally authorized royalty-free copies in specialized formats intended for the visually impaired, and copyright law has long provided a means to distribute recordings to the blind. We can work this out.
Wall Street Journal on Amazon's announcement: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123577886475897701.html
Freelance Class-Action Settlement Going to Supreme Court
We received excellent news in our freelance electronic database class action lawsuit this morning. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case and decide whether federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits involving unregistered works. (Unregistered works are copyright protected, under U.S. law, but have a lesser status than registered works.) The Supreme Court decides to hear only a handful of the many cases it is asked to consider each year, so we're encouraged by this decision. It keeps alive the possibility that the settlement agreement originally reached in 2005 will be upheld.
The freelance electronic database class-action settlement, valued at up to $18 million, was to resolve the copyright infringement claims of freelance writers against database companies, such as Dow Jones and the owners of Lexis-Nexis, that had made digital use of the writers' articles without permission. Plaintiffs and defendants had arrived at a settlement in 2005, which the Southern District Court of New York approved. The settlement was objected to and appealed by a group of freelance writers who thought it failed to allocate sufficient funds to authors of unregistered works.
On November 29, 2007, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, in a 2-1 decision, the district court's approval of the settlement. The appellate court ruled that the district court lacked jurisdiction over claims relating to unregistered freelance articles. Copyright registration is required to bring a suit for infringement, but since registration is viewed as a formality (comparable, many of us believe, to the requirement that one file a complaint in order to get into court), lawyers on both sides thought the settlement could resolve infringement claims for both registered and unregistered works.
In January 2008, we filed a motion to ask that all of the 2nd Circuit judges rehear our appeal. That motion was denied. In August 2008, class counsel filed a motion for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case in order to decide the following question: "Does 17 USC 411(a) restrict the subject matter jurisdiction of the federal courts over copyright infringement actions?" The case is Reed Elvesier, et al., v. Muchnick, et al. (08-203).
Please note that the freelance electronic database class action is a completely different lawsuit from the recently announced settlement of Authors Guild v. Google over the scanning of books. For more information about that settlement, which is pending final approval, please visit www.googlebooksettlement.com.
We'll keep you updated on the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing.