Not that I obsessively track monthly ebook sales, but the direction of travel is clear – ebooks are the future. For titles that lend themselves to discretion, it’s already the present. 50% of revenues for the runaway success 50 shades trilogy came from ebooks. Like many a delusional neophyte author, I recently found myself dreaming of the dizzy heights of winning the Man-Booker prize. So, I surfed over to their submission rules page to note they accepted ebook publications (rule 2.a.iii,iv).
It is with this backdrop that authors need to play close attention to digital format clauses when negotiating contracts. This ought to be bread and butter for your agent. However, even the most skilled agent cannot protect you against unfair laws that prize away digital copyright rights, often without your knowledge or consent. In this regard, a recent judgement from the European Union Court of Justice (the Court) is a welcome reaffirmation of authors’ intellectual property rights.
In France, books published before 1 January 2001 which are no longer commercially distributed or published in print or in a digital format are considered ‘out-of-print’. SOFIA, an approved collecting society, is responsible for authorising the reproduction and communication, in digital form, of out-of-print books. Authors have 6 months in which to register their opposition to this process, after which the digital exploitation of out-of-print books is transferred to SOFIA.
After considering submissions and observations from member states (including the United Kingdom), the Court found[i] that this practise ran contrary to the Copyright Directive (Directive 2001/29/EC). The directive simply does not provide for such an exception or limitation.
This ruling thus reaffirms authors’ rights under the aforementioned directive and highlights the criticality of having an experienced agent or specialist lawyer go through your contract with a fine-tooth comb to ferret out any clauses that may unwittingly limit or assign away your digital rights.
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NB: The same judgement clarified the concept of lending and how, under Union law, it is to be interpreted regarding ebooks (read the court’s summary of this facet here).
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