Amazon will let publishers determine whether their e-books can be read aloud by the Kindle on a title-by-title basis.
Here's an excerpt from the press release:
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. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.
Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat.
Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.
As reported previously, the Authors Guild was opposed to an unbridled read aloud Kindle capability. Here's an excerpt from "The Engadget Interview: Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Authors Guild."
[Aiken] Well, the legal objections fall in a couple categories. One is the basic copyright objection which I know has been bandied about a lot online, and that objection comes in two parts. There's the unauthorized reproduction of the work which is one claim under copyright law—for that there has to be fixation of the copy and there's a legal question as to whether or not there's adequate fixation in the Kindle. The second claim is that text-to-speech creates a derivative work, and under most theories of copyright law, there doesn't have to be fixation for there to be a derivative work created.
Amazon's decision has been controversial. For example,here's an excerpt from Lawrence Lessig's "Caving into Bullies (Aka, Here We Go Again)":
We had this battle before. In 2001, Adobe released e-book technology that gave rights holders (including publishers of public domain books) the ability to control whether the Adobe e-book reader read the book aloud. The story got famous when it was shown that one of its public domain works—Alice's Adventures in Wonderland—was marked to forbid the book to be read aloud. . . .
But the bigger trend here is much more troubling: Innovative technology company (Amazon (Kindle 2), Google (Google Books)) releases new innovative way to access or use content; so-called "representatives" of rights owners, Corleone-like, baselessly insist on a cut; innovative technology company settles with baseless demanders, and we're all arguably worse off.
We're worse off with the Kindle because if the right get set by the industry that publishers get to control a right which Congress hasn't given them—the right to control whether I can read my book to my kid, or my Kindle can read a book to me—users and innovators have less freedom. And we may be worse off with Google Books, because (in ways not clear when the settlement was first reported) the consequence of the class action mechanism may well disable users and innovators from doing what fair use plainly entitled Google to do.