Sunday, February 12, 2012
books v. ebooks round two
It is always interesting when you think a legal issue has been settled, only to see someone take another run at it. Such is the case with ebooks and the digital rights to certain author’s back catalogues. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Harper Collins has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Open Road Integrated Media, a leading digital publishing firm (and a company whose business model I find fascinating). Most people thought that the issue of digital distribution rights had been settled by a 2001 case in which Random House lost a battle to keep Kurt Vonnegut, Robert B. Parker and others from entering into agreements with Rosetta Books, one of the first ebook publishers.
The reason, of course, is that older publishing contracts were silent on the issue of digital rights much like the fact that many old recording agreements were silent on the issues of royalties for digital distribution. Apparently, Harper Collins is now trying to expand the traditional contractual definition of books to include ebooks. If this case goes to trial, the court is going to have to carefully examine the exclusive rights of the copyright holder (i.e. the author) under Section 106 of the Copyright Act and determine whether Harper Collins actually acquired rights that might not have been imagined at the time of the original agreement. I am not really sure how this case will be resolved but I think that some of the digital publishers I have talked to have some intriguing ideas and I would hate to see such innovation stifled and while I am still a pretty traditional reader myself, I see real exciting possibilities for authors whose back catalogs are either out of print or nearly so.