Simpsons Solicitors

Managing the New Print and Digital Rights

December 21st 2011

Bringing a book to market brings a range of challenges to publishers and other key players, particularly in the new print and digital rights environments. From a legal perspective, digital rights management is about ensuring that you have the rights you need to meet the new and growing digital market. The licences you then enter must be consistent with those rights and amongst themselves, flexible.

Challenges arise from several sources. There is a new and uncertain market that demands greater flexibility in rights. Everyone is trying different models from eBooks, apps, lending and subscriptions, while traditional territory models are being challenged. Publishers need a broad and flexible grant of rights that enables them to experiment with different models.

The market is currently in transition, from print (which still dominates sales) to digital (growing fast).  The transition is under additional strain from traditional print distributors and retailers looking to maintain their business and get a share of digital.  For example, US print distributors are asking for exclusive digital rights for the print books they distribute.  This request needs to be balanced with other catalogue-wide non-exclusive deals.   Publishers are having to find new ways to reward print distributors for their marketing contributions that drive digital sales.

There is also, of course, a range of new players in the digital publishing space. Companies like Apple, Google and Amazon are now playing a major role in digital publishing. One of the main tensions is that the interests of these tech companies aren’t as aligned with the interests of publishers selling books as traditional print retailers:  Google’s main interest is in selling advertising on searches, while Amazon and Apple are arguably primarily driven by their wish to sell Kindles and iPads.

In this context some of the critical issues are:

  • check and ensure author agreements are up-to-date and include all the rights necessary in this changing environment – bring authors into the conversation
  • take care in licensing – watch for potential inconsistent grant of rights (for example, an exclusive digital rights deal in one country with a non-exclusive global deal)
  • consider shorter terms and easy exit clauses in new endeavours
  • be aware of possible trade practices issues (there are various legal actions underway in the UK, EU and US in relation to eBook arrangements)
  • consider new commercial models to reward print distribution marketing that assists third party digital distribution (the music industry has some interesting models)

(this is an abstract from a talk given by publishing and copyright lawyer Adam Simpson for the Australian Publishers Association’s Business of Digital Rights conference).