The New York Times has an interesting story today on e-books, copyright and backlist titles.
Here’s the key point with this particular publishing issue:
While most traditional publishers have included e-book rights in new author contracts for 15 years, many titles were originally published before e-books were explicitly included in contracts.
And here’s where the publishing houses are getting greedy:
Several publishers who say they retain e-book rights on old contracts are working to amend those agreements to insert digital royalty rates. A spokesman for Simon & Schuster, Adam Rothberg, said the company has amended many old contracts. “Our plan is to publish all our backlist in e-book form,” he said.
Contracts were signed with no idea the concept of a digital book would ever exist. Those contracts are for the rights to publish those books as physical, bound copies of the text. Publishing contracts are very specific on what rights are conferred, even to the point many publishers don’t include international rights to the books they sign for U.S. rights. E-books certainly fall under the category of an entirely new class of rights, not something that can be “ameneded” after the fact and after the author of those books, and signer of the contract, is no longer around to agree to any amendment. If the heirs to the author’s copyright want to take electronic rights elsewhere, they should be free to do so.
If publishers want to include e-books in older contracts, those rights should be separately negotiated, not amended. I hope the courts come down on the side of the artist on this issue.
Traditional publishing is dying an increasingly quick death right now. I wonder why?