In a surprise announcement during the pre-order commencement of the iPad launch, Apple said that the device has a text-to-voice feature that gives it the capability to read e-books aloud. The app that gives it this capability is called iBooks, and Apple explains that “iBooks works with VoiceOver, the screen reader in iPad, so it can read you the contents of any page.”
And for EPUB titles that are not offered through the iBooks store, you can manually add them to iTunes and then sync them to the iPad:
“The iBooks app uses the EPUB format — the most popular open book format in the world,” Apple’s site reads. “That makes it easy for publishers to create iBooks versions of your favorite reads. And you can add free EPUB titles to iTunes and sync them to the iBooks app on your iPad.
That’s good news for iPad customers, because that means bookworms won’t be limited to the offerings in the iBooks store, which are based on partnerships that Apple inked with publishers.
The new detail about audio dictation should raise more questions. Amazon’s Kindle 2 reader shipped with a function to read e-books out loud, and the Authors Guild made a fuss alleging copyright violations that would cut into sales of audiobooks.
“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.”
The guild contended that authors should be awarded audio-licensing fees for e-books. Responding to the criticism, Amazon said “no copy is made, no derivative work is created and no performance is being given.” Nonetheless, Amazon in late February 2009 gave rights-owners the choice to enable or disable the audio function title by title.
There’s no word on whether the Author’s Guild will pursue a similar complaint against Apple.
The National Federation of the Blind has already applauded Apple for including VoiceOver in the iPad.