March 24, 2014

Judge Rules for Harper Collins in e-book dispute

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A New York court recently ruled in favor of HarperCollins in a dispute with Open Road over “electronic publications” (in a contract from more than three decades ago, when e-books did not exist). If upheld, how will this ruling, coming after the decision in the Rosetta case, affect authors? Legacy publishers? Digital publishers? Open Road argued that the dispute was as much about royalties as about rights. Will legacy publishers be able to hold the line on paying authors half of what companies like Open Road (or Asahina & Wallace) pay?

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erayman's picture
Comment: 
Judge Naomi Buchwald in the HarperCollins case didn't overrule the 2001 Random House v. Rosetta case, she just held that in each situation, you have to look closely at the terms of the author contract and what the parties intended. Both cases are probably correctly decided. Of course, when Judge Stein decided Rosetta, ebooks were in their infancy, so when he looked at the language in an author contract that said, "print, publish and sell ... in book form," he concluded that ebooks weren't "print ... in book form." In the HarperCollins case, Judge Buchwald was interpreting slightly different grant language. According to the opinion, the contract she was interpreting conveyed the right to "publish ... in book form." The word "print" wasn't in it, so she held that the grant was limited to printed books. She had other reasons for her decision, but this one is indicative of how closely you need to look at the contracts.

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