The day before most of publishing shut down for the holiday break, HarperCollins filed a copyright infringement lawsuit December 23 against Open Road Integrated Media over Open Road’s publication of the e-book edition of Jean Craighead George’s bestselling and award-winning children’s book Julie of the Wolves. The suit charges that HC’s contract with George, signed in 1971, gives it the right to be the exclusive publisher of Wolves, “in book form,” including via “computer, computer-stored, mechanical or other electronic means now known or hereafter invented.”
The suit states that Open Road has copied into electronic format the text of Wolves to sell as an e-book in violation of HC's contract. The complaint further states that “Open Road seeks to publish Julie of the Wolves in electronic format — as opposed to paper format — fails to legitimize its conduct. The rights that HarperCollins acquired from George plainly encompass such electronic means of distribution, which is but a technology-enabled variant for how consumers can read the Work. Open Road's unlawful exploitation of those rights is directly competitive with sales of the Work in paper format and HarperCollins' own plans to publish Julie of the Wolves as an e-book.”
The complaint noted that Open is looking to take advantage of the promotional work HC has done for Wolves. which has sold 3.8 million copies since its publication. According to the complaint, HC spent $70 million in fiscal 2011 to promote its all of its works and produced 166 bestsellers. The e-book version of Wolves will not only cash in on all the publicity that HC had generated for Wolves but will compete directly with the sale of the the print editions, HC said.
The complaint also looks to explain what it calls the “stated limitation of paragraph 20” of its contract — that HarperCollins must seek George's consent to license rights in the Work enumerated in that paragraph — by explaining that the clause “does not grant George or any third party the right to publish the Work as an e-book, a right that instead belongs exclusively to HarperCollins.”
HC is seeking an injunction preventing Open Road from releasing additional copies of Wolves as well as the destruction of copies.
An Open Road spokesperson issued the followed statement in response to the complaint: "While we have not seen the complaint and therefore cannot comment, Open Road has been granted the ebook rights by the author and is confident that the HarperCollins claim is without merit."
In a prepared statement, HC spokesperson Eric Crum said: “HarperCollins Publishers believes in protecting its exclusive rights. Our contract with Jean Craighead George, the author of Julie of the Wolves, grants us the exclusive digital rights to the book, and Open Road’s e-book edition violates our rights. We intend to take all appropriate steps to protect our exclusive rights under copyright against infringement, in this case and in any instances that might occur in the future.”