darkvis We previously reported on Random House’s somewhat tortuous stance that it still owns the contractual e-book rights even for books whose contracts pre-dated the idea of the e-book—even though a court did not see it that way in 2001.

Now Motoko Rich at the New York Times writes that Random House is not pressing a claim against the digital rights for the works of the late William Styron, author of works including Sophie’s Choice and Darkness Visible. A Random House spokesman insists that the company is continuing talks with authors and the Styron case is an exception due to a “unique family situation.”

The Styron estate will be publishing e-books of Styron’s works through Open Road, ex-HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman’s new e-book startup, which has promised to take full advantage of the Internet in publicizing Styron’s works to a younger audience.

Open Road has gathered documentary material on Styron’s family and scanned documents relating to Styron’s life and times, which it will be hosting on its website. It will also be publicizing via Twitter and Facebook.

“All of this is going to be used by Open Road to uncover more fans for William Styron,” Ms. Friedman said in an interview last week at the company’s offices in SoHo. Open Road will not charge for any of this extra material. The company said the e-books would be sold through various online retailers, but for now it has a deal only with Amazon.

Open Road will be splitting royalties with Styron’s estate 50-50.

Does this represent a change in Random House’s attitudes toward e-books, or is it, as the representative said, a one-time exception? I would expect them to say it was an exception regardless, so as not to weaken their bargaining posture with other writers and their estates who they are trying to convince to stay.

Either way, it’s probable we have not heard the last of Random House’s rights claims.


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