We’ve said before that e-books are really coming into their own now. More and more companies are coming out with competing e-readers and more and more authors are publishing e-books, either on their own, through a company, or via their publisher.
To keep you up to date, today we have news on a fight between authors and publishers about rights to re-issue books in e-book form. One of the groundbreaking fights is between the heirs of William Styron and his original publisher Random House. Although Styron used to be a big name (Sophie’s Choice, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and others), his books are not selling like they used to.
Styron’s family wants to re-issue them as e-books. Random House says they own the e-book rights, even though the contract they signed with Styron was before e-books came on-scene.
This same struggle is going on with books from other authors, like Ralph Ellison, John Updike and Ernest Hemingway. Some have been resolved. Some have not. Not only does the Styron family feel they own the e-book rights, they feel they deserve more than what publishers generally give in digital royalties, since digital books cost less to produce than print books.
There is precedent that supports authors and their heirs, according to an article in The New York Times:
In 2002, Random House sued RosettaBooks, an e-book publisher, for copyright infringement when Rosetta signed contracts with authors — including Mr. Styron — to release digital versions of previously published novels.In cases where the author’s books were published (and contracts signed) before there came to be e-books and, thus, e-book rights may be in question, negotiations are ongoing. Some have been settled. And for new authors, this is another reason to have an agent. If you don’t, you’ll probably want to consult with an attorney who deals in book rights.
In its suit, Random House relied on wording in its contracts that granted it all rights to publish the works “in book form.” But a federal judge in Manhattan denied the publisher’s request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that such wording did not automatically include e-books. An appellate court similarly denied Random House’s request.