From today’s NYTimes.
Because e-books were not explicitly mentioned in most author contracts until about 15 years ago, disputes have arisen about who has the right to publish digital versions of older books. But along with other publishers, Random House, which releases Styron’s works in print, has said that clauses like “in book form” give it exclusive rights to publish electronic editions. In a letter to literary agents in December, Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, the world’s largest publisher of trade books, said authors were “precluded from granting publishing rights to third parties” for electronic editions.
But in a statement last week Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, said the company was continuing talks with many authors or their estates about publishing e-books of their older works. “The decision of the Styron estate is an exception to these discussions,” he said in an e-mail message. “Our understanding is that this is a unique family situation.”
Mr. Applebaum added that Random House had released e-book editions of two titles by Styron published after electronic rights clauses had been added to contracts. “We are hopeful future discussions with his family members will eventually result in additional e-book publications,” Mr. Applebaum said.
People in the publishing industry said Random House’s apparent acquiescence in the Styron case could lead to a flood of other authors or their estates moving e-books to separate digital publishers.