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Who Owns eBook Rights?

The Summer’s biggest news story in e-book rights, and probably in book rights in general, was the feud and subsequent settlement between Random House and powerful agent Andrew Wylie. Robert Scott Lawrence revisited the case in a blog entry over the weekend, with the added context of a 2001 case in which Random House sued Rosetta Books over a similar complaint.

Of the Rosetta case, Lawrence writes:

“In denying Random House’s request for an injunction, the district court ascribed to this generally accepted definition of the word “book,” and found that the grant of e-book rights was not contemplated by contracts which preceded the invention of e-books themselves.

The court of appeal subsequently upheld the lower court’s decision, but noted in passing that “there is some appeal to Random House’s argument that an ‘ebook’ – a digital book that can be read on a computer screen or an electronic device . . . is simply a ‘form’ of a book, and therefore within the coverage of Random House’s licenses.”

And he concludes, unsurprisingly:

“the most important question — still remains unanswered: Who owns the e-book rights to books published before the advent of e-books?

Right now the answer appears to be ‘Who knows?'”





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