Forty years after acquiring publishing rights to the award-winning children’s book “Julie of the Wolves” by author Jean Craighead George, HarperCollins is claiming copyright infringement by Open Road, a Manhattan e-book publisher distributing the work electronically via downloads on Amazon.com, Apple, and others e-commerce web sites.
The outcome of the litigation (read the lawsuit below) could be a bellwether for publishing houses that take their time to bring signed authors’ works into the e-publishing game, including ‘Big Six’ publishers like HarperCollins.
The copyright lawsuit quotes HarperCollins’ July 1, 1971 contract with George, saying that it held all rights to publish her book, even via “computer, computer-stored, mechanical or other electronic means now known or hereafter invented.”
The filing charges that George’s literary agent told HarperCollins in late 2010 that the author:
had received an offer from an unidentified publisher to publish Julie of the Wolves in e-book format. HarperCollins responded that HarperCollins alone controlled the e-book publishing rights and evinced its intent, consistent with its rights under the Agreement, to pursue publishing Julie of the Wolves in e-book format itself.
Wow. HarperCollins somehow “evinced its intent” to release Julie of the Wolves as an e-book.
That just seems like fancy legalese for a publisher who may be suggesting that it was slow to get the title into the e-book market, but while it was taking time to consider the idea, it still wanted to keep control of the author’s work.
This lawsuit should be a warning to other publishers that they need to get their signed authors’ works distributed electronically as soon as possible.
Amazon released the first Kindle in late 2007. Apple released its first iPad in April 2010. Publishers and authors have been scuffling with Amazon for years over e-book prices. This holiday season, those prices kept soaring, often for more than print versions of the work.
In George’s case, it appears that the author didn’t want her Newberry Medal-winning book to be kept out of the burgeoning e-book market.
Will HarperCollins get a temporary restraining order halting e-book sales by Open Media? Will Open Road be able to sell George’s work as an electronic download? A resolution of this case could be somewhere in the middle: a licensing agreement HarperCollins to let Open Road continue distributing George’s work electronically, with a revenue share.
Read the copyright lawsuit below, and follow the case docket here to see how the case is resolved.
Harpercollins Publishers LLC v. Open Road Integrated Media, LLP
Subscribe to Justia’s FREE weekly intellectual patent case opinion summaries here.