A number of copyright controversies have caught the public’s eye this year — e.g., the lawsuit over the AP photo of Barak Obama, the feud between Coldplay and Joe Satriani, the debate about Facebook’s policies toward the intellectual property of its users. Yet these disputes, fascinating though they are, involve the application of well-known legal principles. The facts are interesting, but the law is straightforward.

A somewhat less prominent controversy, however, offers a nice example of the frequent collision between copyright law, established business models, and new technologies. In February, Amazon introduced the Kindle 2 — the latest model of its groundbreaking electronic book reader. One of its new features is a read-aloud feature that converts written text into speech, so users can listen to the books stored on the device rather than reading them. The audio is actually fairly good; one would not mistake it for a human reader, but it’s a far cry from the disembodied voices of earlier generations of computerized text-to-speech. [...]

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