HarperCollins is suing digital publisher Open Road Integrated Media for copyright infringement over the digital rights to Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, a children’s book published in 1972. The full text of the complaint is below.
HarperCollins filed its lawsuit on December 23. The company says its contract with George, signed in 1971, gives it the right to publish Julie of the Wolves in any format. HarperCollins has sold over 3.8 million print copies of Julie of the Wolves since it was published. “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,” HarperCollins says in its complaint. The company says it has “the exclusive right to publish George’s children’s novel Julie of the Wolves (herein sometimes “the Work”) “in book form,” including “computer, computer-stored, mechanical or other electronic means now known or hereafter invented” as stated in the original contract.
Furthermore, the contract “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.” However, as Publishers Marketplace notes, HarperCollins “have sued only the e-publisher Open Road, for infringement, and not their author George, for breach of contract.” George is 93 years old.
HarperCollins says that Open Road’s sales of the e-book may cut into its print sales:
Open Road’s e-book edition of the Work is directly competitive with hardcover and paperback editions of the Work published by HarperCollins, as well as with HarperCollins’ own plans to publish Julie of the Wolves as an e-book. Open Road’s unauthorized reproduction and public distribution of Julie of the Wolves by electronic means devalues HarperCollins’ exclusive rights to publish the Work and threatens to divert and is diverting sales of the Work from HarperCollins. Unless enjoined, Open Road’s unlawful conduct will deprive HarperCollins of the benefits of the investments in and good will derived from its multi-decade publishing efforts in relation to the Work.
Open Road was founded by former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman in 2009. Open Road published the e-book edition of Julie of the Wolves this past October. In a statement, an Open Road spokesperson said, “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 an official statement, HarperCollins’ Erin Crum said, HarperCollins 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.”