Books Magazine

Buying the Ebook Rights - in 1971

By Lexi Revellian @LexiRevellian
Buying the ebook rights - in 1971Forty-three years ago, Jean Craighead George signed a contract with Harper Collins for her book, Julie of the Wolves. She got a $2,000 dollar advance and standard royalties. It sold well - over 3.8 million copies, and it's still selling.

In 2011, the author published the ebook version with Open Road. She wanted to e-publish with Harper Collins, but they wouldn't match the 50% royalty offered by Open Road. They preferred to sue, arguing that clauses in the 1971 contract gave them the rights to the ebook. A judge has now found in favour of Harper Collins. Jean Craighead George died during the litigation.

What was the clause in the contract that tied in rights to a form of book not to be invented for many decades? It was a combination of a standard subsidiary rights grant and the following:

HarperCollins shall grant no license without the prior written consent of the Author… including uses in storage and retrieval and information systems, and/or whether through computer, computer-stored, mechanical or other electronic means now known or hereafter invented

Two conclusions can be drawn from this.

  1. There is no end to the shameless rapacity of Harper Collins (and the rest of Big Publishing). Here they cheerfully sued an author in her nineties who had made them millions.
  2. Do not trust a professional to draw up a contract for you. Read and make sure you understand the implications of every word yourself, because you are the person signing the contract, and you will be bound by it.
For more on this story, see Publishers Weekly.

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