An Agent Weighs In on Random House’s Claim to Backlist eBook Rights

As noted earlier, Random House CEO Markus Dohle’s use of the term “in book form” in his 12/11 letter claiming RH_Logo_Sm.jpgelectronic rights to the Random House backlist is going to be a sticking point for many in the publishing business. Inevitably, agents and authors will question whether “in book form” as used in contracts drafted before the advent of eBooks can refer to eBooks, a form that had not yet been invented in the way we think of it today.

Jason Allen Ashlock of the Movable Type agency (who will be speaking at MediaBistro’s eBook Summit), told eBookNewser that in his opinion, contracts written before the mid 1980s, when updated language was added to anticipate digital books, cannot claim eBook rights: ” I don’t think the traditional use of term “in book form,” can encompass digital rights. Up to the moment they changed their contracts in the mid-1980s, it did not mean anything digital, which is why they changed their contracts,” Ashlock told eBookNewser in a phone interview.

Ashlock also said he understands why Random House is making this move. Nonetheless, it seems likely Random House will have to fight this out book by book as agents go to bat for their authors and titles. How do other agents feel? Does anyone wholeheartedly agree with Dohle?