Apple's iPad Will (Perhaps Controversially) Read E-Books Aloud

In addition to the orientation-lock button, yesterday's pre-order commencement delivered another surprise nugget: the iPad will read all EPUB books out loud. If you remember the shitstorm that surrounded Kindle's text-to-voice feature, you'll know that this is a bold move.

Wired noticed that on its updated iBooks page, under a heading "Change your reading habits," Apple explains that "iBooks works with VoiceOver, the screen reader in iPad, so it can read you the contents of any page." While it may not spark a widespread change in reading habits, for many vision-impaired users it's an essential feature.

But the authors of the books themselves aren't so hot on the idea of being read aloud without their permission, deeming these recitals as "derivative works" for which they deserve additional audio-licensing fees. This battle flared up around Kindle 2's text-to-speech feature, which resulted in an ugly clash between the Authors Guild and the National Federation of the Blind and ultimately in Amazon making the feature optional for authors.

Even in the event that Apple has already received permission from publishers to run the e-books its sells through its text-to-speech software, we know that iBooks will work with any non-DRM EPUB books, which means they, too, can be read aloud and are subject to the derivative works objection.

From a legal standpoint, all of this is a little bit hazy. Amazon touted Kindle's text-to-speech as an dedicated e-book reading feature, whereas Apple's VoiceOver, already included on the iPhone, is an accessibility software that can read the text of any screen. Still, by mentioning it in a section that encourages you to "change your reading habits," its hard to imagine that the Authors Guild will stay mum on the topic. [Wired]