Judge: Random House Has No Rights to E-Books

NEW YORK — A federal judge ruled that publishing heavyweight Random House Inc. can’t stop e-book publisher Rosetta Books LLC from selling digital copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic “Slaughterhouse-Five” and other older Random House titles over the Internet.

Random House, a unit of Bertelsmann AG, had sued Rosetta Books in February, a day after the start-up publisher began selling about 40 titles online. Random House claimed it owned the rights to e-books, even though electronic books didn’t exist when original contracts with several authors were signed.

In a 20-page opinion handed down Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein in Manhattan found that contracts giving Random House the right to “print, publish and sell the works in book form” don’t cover the electronic book format.

“This is neither a victory for technophiles nor a defeat for Luddites,” the judge said. “It is merely a determination … relying on neutral principles of contract interpretation.”

The judge denied Random House’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing Rosetta from selling e-books by Mr. Vonnegut, William Styron (author of “Sophie’s Choice”) and Robert B. Parker (author of “Promised Land”).

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