David vs. Goliath
The court battle between RosettaBooks and Random House has been well-documented in the media, extending beyond the circles of the book publishing industry. Round one of the imbroglio ended with Judge Sydney Stein's much-awaited decision that effectively gave the e-book publisher the right to electronically publish the works of previously published authors. But on September 13, 2001, the bell was soundly rung for round two when lawyers representing Random House filed a motion to appeal Judge Stein's ruling. The case continues to draw much attention due to the many ramifications that rest upon its final outcome. Taking time out of his busy schedule, CEO Arthur Klebanoff speaks about his confidence in the decision, the benefits of e-books and the factors that will eventually comprise a viable business model.
RC: You obviously have a lot of experience in the publishing industry. Did you have any sense of what the reaction would be once RosettaBooks began making deals directly with authors to reproduce their work electronically?
AK: From 30 years of experience in the publishing business, I was confident that authors owned the backlist electronic rights and that the community had acted on that assumption throughout the developments in electronic publishing. I thought there was a chance that some publishers might challenge this view, but that such a challenge would be both misguided and counterproductive—exactly what has happened.
RC: In reading your deposition [available on www.rosettabooks.com], one gets the sense that Random House sees itself as the victim and the authors, the people creating the content, and RosettaBooks have committed an egregious wrong (hence the legal action). What was the mood at RosettaBooks during the case and what was the typical response of your peers in the industry?
AK: Random House is awfully large to think of itself as a victim. It need only license electronic rights from authors—which it has sometimes done—in order to achieve its stated objectives. Our industry peers have been uniformly supportive—witness The Authors' Guild and The Association of Authors representatives filing a join amicus brief for the first time in 75 years, the dozen agents who provided supportive affidavits and the prominent authors who licensed to us despite the litigation. Not one author or agent has supported the Random House view and few prominent editors or subsidiary rights people have been quoted in support of the corporate position. Our mood throughout was that it was more important to be right than to be large. While we did not choose the fight, we have been steadfast throughout advocating the authors' position.