It’s a sad day for use rights folk, as Amazon caves to the authors’ group that had insisted that having a computer “read” their work out loud was a protected use (“copy”) that they could prevent. The legal issues here are somewhat murky, since a public performance of a play is preventable (you have to pay the author each time) while just reading the book (what if you move your lips?) is presumably not preventable by the author. However, it’s a sad day for creativity when a person who purchases a media item for his or her own use can be prevented with using it by himself or herself in a novel way by the people who created it. This attempt by the authors’ group to prevent novel uses — of the novel! — is unlikely to create additional value for their members over the long term. (Or the short term: those who have listened to the voice reading books report that that quality is nothing like a real human reader.)
For those who like to think about the far-out implications: it’s fun to imagine the day in the future when robots can actually read well enough that a feature like this might be useful. Imagine a software reader that is good enough that some people prefer it to a human reading the same text. Or: a program that reads a book and then stages a visual version of it as a “play” for the person who wants to “read” the book. These cases get closer to “performance”, and more interesting as tests for copyright law, I think.