It isn’t often that a law suit taking place in New York has the potential to directly impact my business, but this one has me a little worried. HarperCollins is suing an ebook publisher called Open Road, and the basis of their suit is that the phase “in book form” in a contract automatically includes ebook rights. If they win, then authors who have separately sold ebook rights to their back list can expect to get rude letters from their print publishers.
It did take a bit of provocation for HarperCollins to take this step. Open Road was founded by Jane Friedman, a former CEO of HarperCollins, and they very deliberately target high profile books for which to believe the paper publishers do not own ebook rights. Friedman will know the HarperCollins back catalog well, and is therefore well placed to exploit it. But this case has the potential to affect lots of people. Given what they have done with SF Gateway, I don’t suppose that Gollancz are too pleased about it.
I should note that this won’t affect authors’ ability to re-sell their back catalog if the rights to those books have expired. It is only cases where the paper publisher still claims rights over the paper edition(s) that are affected. But it could affect the Ben Jeapes books I have published, and many of the books that I have on sale in the store. I’ll be watching this one closely.