Kindle 2 Update: Amazon has decided to give rights holders the choice to disable the text-to-speech function on a work by work basis.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

… Amazon.com Inc. reversed course Friday on the device’s controversial text-to-speech feature, which reads digital books aloud in a robotic voice. The company gave rights holders the ability to disable the feature for individual titles. …

… Amazon made it clear Friday that its reversal didn’t mean it agreed with that interpretation of copyright law.

“Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created and no performance is being given,” the company said. “Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.”

Ben Sheffner, a Los Angeles copyright attorney and author of the blog Copyrights & Campaigns, said Amazon probably reversed course to maintain good relationships with authors, not because of legal concerns.

Sheffner said that Amazon probably wouldn’t need different rights to sell an e-book with the text-to-speech function enabled, but that book contracts could differ dramatically so there was no way to know for sure. …

Sheffner’s full blog post on the subject is here. In it we learn that “Harvard Law School professor Larry Lessig calls the Authors Guild’s objections to the “read-to-me” feature “Corleone-like” and Amazon’s move “caving in to bullies.”” This vileness in addition to wanting to sue parents for reading to their children and persecuting blind people. Why do we even have authors? Sheffner also writes:

Remember: Amazon can only offer books via Kindle because it has contracts with authors and/or publishers that permit it to reproduce, display, and distribute their books in digital form. I haven’t seen such contracts, but I’m confident they contain myriad deal points: money, term of license, and exquisite detail about what Amazon is actually permitted to do with the digital copies. An author or publisher would be perfectly within his rights to demand a clause like: “Amazon shall not in any manner facilitate through the Kindle 2 the automated conversion of the text of the Book into audible speech that may be heard by the user.” (Of course whether the inclusion of such a clause by the licensor would be a wise business decision is a separate question.)