It looks like the startup founded by the former CEO of HarperCollins might have stepped on someone’s toes. Lawyers for HarperCollins filed a lawsuit late last week, and they accused OpenRoad of publishing an eBook that HC had the rights to.
OpenRoad had recently signed a deal with Jean Craighead George. They were planning to release an eBook version of the award-winning children’s book Julie of the Wolves. Unfortunately for them, it looks like George had already signed away the rights.
According to PW, HarperCollins signed a contract with George back in 1971. This contract apparently went far beyond the usual contract terms of the day. HC is claiming that not only did it cover the print book, but it also covered any eBook rights as well, including publishing the title via “computer, computer-stored, mechanical or other electronic means now known or hereafter invented.”
That is fairly hard to believe; would you really expect someone to mention computers in a 1971 contract? I don’t; in fact, I know of contracts from the late 1990’s where eBook rights weren’t mentioned.
In a prepared statement, HC spokesperson Eric Crum said: “HarperCollins Publishers believes in protecting its exclusive rights. Our contract with Jean Craighead George, the author of Julie of the Wolves, grants us the exclusive digital rights to the book, and Open Road’s e-book edition violates our rights. We intend to take all appropriate steps to protect our exclusive rights under copyright against infringement, in this case and in any instances that might occur in the future.”
An Open Road spokesperson issued the followed statement in response to the complaint: “While we have not seen the complaint and therefore cannot comment, Open Road has been granted the ebook rights by the author and is confident that the HarperCollins claim is without merit.”
To be fair, I doubt that HC would file a lawsuit if they didn’t already have the contract terms they claim. But in any case, we’re going to have to wait to see what the judge says.