E-book Rights and Pre-Internet Publishing Contracts

Our NYC and Miami Entertainment Law Firm advises and represents clients in all legal matters related to music, sports, television/film, visual and literary works, modeling, online matters, and intellectual property.

Digital technology is changing Florida’s entertainment industry in countless ways, and perhaps the most rapid change is in the ways people are consuming or experiencing their entertainment. As more people use iPads, Kindles and other e-readers to read, even the centuries-old practice of reading books is changing rapidly. The publishing industry has had a hard time keeping up with these changes, and the law surrounding these changes is anything but settled. A recent case from another state helps illustrate some of the confusing issues that arise when publishers deal with rights to electronic books.

A New York judge recently ruled in favor of the publishing house HarperCollins after it filed suit against electronic publisher Open Road over which company has the right to publish an electronic version of Jean Craighead George’s 1973 children’s book “Julie of the Wolves.” George signed a contract with Open Road to publish the book in e-book form, sparking a 2011 lawsuit by HarperCollins, which claimed that its publishing contract for “Julie of the Wolves” included the right to e-books. George died in 2012.

HarperCollins agreed to publish “Julie of the Wolves” in 1971 with a contract that gave George industry-standard royalties. The book went on to sell 3.8 million copies. However, the contract – executed before the Internet was invented – said nothing about digital distribution or e-books. In some cases, publishers have argued that language in their pre-Internet contracts was vague enough to give them e-book rights as well as traditional book rights. In other cases, publishers have settled for receiving sizeable royalties when e-book publishers put their titles online.

Like so many aspects of entertainment law, literary property contracts require a lot of negotiation and attention to fine detail. Managing them effectively also requires keeping up to date on how markets and technology are changing. A Florida attorney with experience in the ever-changing entertainment industry can help people in the industry to secure a contract that will work for them for many years to come.

Source: Publishers Weekly, “Judge Rules for HarperCollins in Open Road E-Book Dispute,” Andrew Albanese, March 17, 2014

Barry Chase

Barry Chase, Esq., Senior Partner at ChaseLawyers®, is a distinguished figure in the realm of sports and entertainment law, offering Harvard-level representation that is both cost-sensitive and exceptional. An honors graduate of Yale College (Phi Beta Kappa) and Harvard Law School, Chase's illustrious career commenced at a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, now known as Wilmer Hale. Here, he honed his expertise in Communications and First Amendment law, representing media titans such as CBS, the Times-Mirror Company, and Time, Inc. in pivotal Federal Communications Commission (FCC) matters.

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