By Edward Nawotka
A pair of articles in the US press—one hitting the front page of the New York Times and another in the Wall Street Journal—cite a letter sent on Friday by Random House to US literary agents restating their assertion that they hold the e-book rights to books they have under contract. In letter, dated Dec. 11, Markus Dohle, chief executive of the publishing arm of Bertelsmann AG, wrote that the “vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the exclusive right to publish books in electronic formats.” He also said that Random House’s older agreements granted it the exclusive right to publish a work “in book form” or “in any and all editions.”
Not everyone agrees. Agent Nat Sobel told the WSJ that he didn’t accept the RH’s assertion: “I don’t accept Random House’s position, and I don’t think anybody else will either. You are entitled to the rights stated in your contract. Contracts 20 years ago didn’t cover electronic rights. And the courts have already agreed with this position.”
Another party likely to disagree is Jane Friedman of Open Road Media, who has announced plans to publish William Styron’s backlist in enhanced e-book format and has said she was in negotiations with the family to do so. (Styron is used as an example throughout the Times article.)
Random has lost this legal fight before: In 2001, the courts denied Random House petition injunction against RosettaBooks, ruling that Random House’s contracts were limited to print books and didn’t cover e-books. Among the authors disputed was William Styron.