Intellectual Property

The iPad's Potential Legal Problems

The Apple iPad's has arrived. Among its many features is an audio e-book reader. While it's expected to become the most popular e-book reader, there are already legal challenges looming.

What Is an E-book Reader?

An e-book reader is an electronic device designed to read digital books and other publications. You'd use these devices because they're portable, save room and the cost of many e-books are cheaper than actual books. You can go on vacation and bring dozens of books with you without worrying about weight.

Currently, the most common e-book devices are Amazon's Kindle 2, the Barnes and Noble Nook and the Sony Reader. The iPad is expected to take the lead in this market.

The iPad

Just as the iPhone and the iPod took smartphones and portable music to a whole new level, the iPad is expected to do the same with computing. Apple is known for combining technical details with great design and user-friendliness, and the iPad will give consumers a new experience.

The iPad could change the way you use computers, read books and watch TV. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, has said the iPad is a "magical and revolutionary device," and has told people the iPad is the most important thing he's ever done.

Audio Dictation

The iPad will also include an audio dictation feature. This feature caused controversy for Amazon with its Kindle 2 e-book device. It allows the iPad to read books out loud to you. Also, Apple indicated you'll be able to use the iPad to read EPUB titles from sources outside of the iBooks store.

The EPUB format is the most popular open book format used, which Apple will use as well. Readers can add free EPUB titles to iTunes and sync them to the iBooks application on their iPad.

The Lawsuits

When Amazon's Kindle 2 reader used a function to read e-books out loud, the Authors Guild accused Amazon of violating copyright laws. Reading a book out loud, they explain, is a derivative right under copyright law. Therefore, the Guild argues that authors should get audio-licensing fees for e-books.

However, Amazon's response to these charges was that no copyright laws were broken because this feature didn't create a copy, or a performance of these e-books. Nonetheless, in February 2009, Amazon surrendered and gave copyright owners the choice to enable or disable the audio function.

There's no word on whether the Author's Guild will pursue a similar complaint against Apple, but it's likely.

The Legal Issue Explained - Derivative Works

Copyright is a form of intellectual property giving certain rights to an author or creator of an original work such as a book or a song. When you own the copyright to a work, you have the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. You can also license, transfer and assign the work.

The exclusive rights that copyright law initially gave its owners have been gradually expanded over time. Now, many more uses fall within the scope of copyright law, including dramatization, translations and derivative works such as adaptations and transformations.

A derivative work is a creation that's based on an already existing work. It's basically a new version of the work, for example, a translation or a reproduction. A derivative work can include turning a novel into a screen play or a drawing based on a photograph.

The Authors' Guild claims the voice feature is a derivative work and therefore if Kindle or Apple use this feature to read audio books without paying the copyright owners the copyright law will be violated. However, the counterargument is that a robotic, synthesized voice isn't a derivative work at all.

The devices don't recreate a feature of the e-book that requires a derivative license. Rather, some pose it's as if you're reading a book out loud to your children, which is obviously legal.

As technology continues to advance, legal issues will arise. The Apple iPad, along with other e-book readers, reflect the legal challenges facing technology, the law and the modern world.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Will I be affected if I buy an iPad and then Apple gets sued?
  • Will I get sued for copyright infringement if I use the audio e-book function in the iPad?
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