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E-Rights and Wrongs

In Entertainment, Technology on April 29, 2010 at 10:07 am
Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...

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So, we have the Kindle and the IPad and the Nook and more e-readers coming out all the time.

And you have some big name writers making big bucks writing pieces just for these devices and you have other writers who are doing well enough, that they’re backing away from traditional publishing to focus on work to be downloaded.

So, all must be pretty good for writers as the world of publishing expands online, right? Well, not quite.

Much as what happened when ITunes started and some musicians withheld their music, complaining about the terms. And, there are some who are still keeping their music out of digital stores and there are others who have seen their music become available but are none too happy about how it’s turned out.

Well, it’s turning out to be the same with writers as it has been with musicians as authors struggle on several fronts from controlling the rights to their work to how much their going to get to well, if everything’s going to be sold online, what’s going to happen to bookstores?

The issue’s been in the news this week because after a month’s long fight, Random House has agreed to let the family of William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice and other classics, to sell the e-rights to his books to Open Road Media.

What made this especially notable is that Random House has taken a pretty hard line when it comes to holding on to the e-rights of books.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in December, Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent a letter to literary agents asserting that the “vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the right to publish books in electronic formats.

And in response to those who disagreed because contracts drawn up decades before e-books became popular — r practical — a Random House spokesman told the paper: “We believe Random House has the right to pblish out author’s backlist titles as e-books.”

Well, of course they do.

You would think Random House had learned its lesson — after all, it was nearly ten years ago that they lost a landmark case when it tried to get Rosetta Books from publishing some e-books.

In other cases, it’s been writers deciding to withhold e-versions of their books.

JK Rowling has chosen to keep Harry Potter off of e-readers for now and, in November, John Grisham (lawyer, that he is) made a very passionate argument about why he wasn’t allowing e-versions of his books to be sold.

“You’re going to wipe out tons of bookstores and publishers and we’re going to buy it all online,” he told the Today Show. “I’m probably going to be all right — but the aspiring writers are going to have a very hard time getting published.”

And while Grisham’s holdout didn’t last long (unsurprisingly, perhaps, there’s no comment from him or his representatives), his arguments are still valid.

So, as you download books (something I’ve done) and curl up with your IPad, Nook or Kindle or Sony Reader or whatever, keep in mind that someone created the work and that there’s a chance that person is still fighting for the ability to have some control over it.

It’s especially important when you realize there are still battles on the horizon.

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