In a major e-book rights development that will have repercussions for many best-selling authors, The New York Times is reporting that Random House has ceded digital book rights to the Estate of William Styron for high profile titles such as “Sophie’s Choice”, “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” and “Darkness Visible.” The move contravenes the position staked out by Random House CEO Markus Dohle in his December 9, 2009 letter to agents (reported on here) asserting that Random House authors were “precluded from granting publishing rights to third parties” for e-book editions. The agreement frees the heirs of William Styron to proceed with their agreement with Open Road, the e-book publisher headed by former Harper Collins president Jane Friedman and film producer, Jeffrey Sharp. Open Road’s editions of several Styron works will be made available to consumers on May 4th.
Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum sought to limit the decision to the unique ongoing negotiations between Random House and the heirs of William Styron. The catalogue of William Styron was at issue in the “Rosetta Books” litigation in 2002, in which a federal court in New York denied Random House’s motion to enjoin Rosetta’s e-book publication of several Styron titles. Random House’s position notwithstanding, the legal reasoning of the Rosetta decision is equally applicable to any publishing agreement entered into prior to 1994. The only thing that may be distinguishable between the Styron heirs and other Random House authors is the willingness of the heirs of William Styron to take on Random House — Lisa Davis