November 10, 2014

Judge denies HarperCollins bid for $1 million in Julie of the Wolves digital rights case

by

Jean Craighead George

Jean Craighead George

After years in court and a ruling in March, the dust is finally settling around the fight over digital rights to Jean Craighead George’s classic YA novel, Julie of the Wolves. Despite a ruling against it, Open Road has managed to dodge a bullet in the form of more than a million dollars in attorney fees that HarperCollins was seeking to obtain.

Andrew Albanese—who’s been following the story since March—writes for Publishers Weekly that HarperCollins asked the court in June for attorney fees “in the amount of $1,089,371.50 and costs in the amount of $7,040.62, about 70% of HarperCollins’ total fees of $1,556,245.” Judge Naomi Rice Buchwald, who ruled on the case, denied this bid for millions, though, instead awarding them the statutory maximum of $30,000 in damages, plus some $7,000 in costs.

In her decision, Buchwald writes that because the conflict “arose in the context of a developing, and still somewhat uncharted, area of copyright law,” there were ambiguous aspects to it. She rejects HC’s argument that Open Road’s publication of an ebook of Julie of the Wolves was “objectively unreasonable,” stating that just because the court had ruled, that “does not mean that [Open Road’s] argument was clearly unmeritorious or patently devoid of support.”

The core of the case lies with a discrepancy between the late George’s contract with HarperCollins and a separate agreement she made with up and coming publisher Open Road, which she made because of their high rate on royalties (Open Roads offers a standard of 50%), feeling that HC’s offer of 25% was “fundamentally unfair.” Buchwald upheld her decision from earlier this year by issuing a final injunction against Open Road, barring them from gaining any further benefit from its unauthorized ebook edition.

Open Road COO Chris Davis tells PW that the ruling would have “virtually no impact on any other titles in Open Road’s growing catalog of more than 8,000 e-books,” and that the young company was eager to move forward from the court case.

 

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.

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