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Random House Seeks Ban on Copying by E-Book Firm

From Bloomberg News

Random House Inc. has asked a federal judge to bar a publisher of electronic books from copying works of William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Parker and selling them over the Internet.

Random House, a unit of Bertelsmann AG, the world’s third largest media company, says rival RosettaBooks LLC has cherry-picked eight important titles, including “Sophie’s Choice” and “Slaughterhouse-Five,” copied them in digital format, and begun selling them online.

The lawsuit could have important consequences for the publishing industry. A central issue will be whether authors of older books own the right to publish their works electronically, or whether publishers of the original hardcover versions do.

“Our contract gives us the right to publish in book form, and we take book form to mean paper form or electronic form,” said Random House general counsel Harriette Dorsen.

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“The reading experience is the same whether you read it on a piece of paper or you read it on a screen.”

Arthur Klebanoff, founder and chief executive of New York-based RosettaBooks, said publishing contracts dating before 1980 didn’t anticipate that books could be sold electronically and that authors never sold publishers their e-book rights.

Klebanoff said RosettaBooks has contracted with the authors to sell their works electronically. “We’re not pirates,” he said. “The rights belong to the talent.”

RosettaBooks will be represented in the case by attorney David Boies, the Justice Department’s chief lawyer in its successful antitrust suit against Microsoft Corp.

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Boies is also the attorney for Napster Inc. the online music-sharing service being sued by the music industry for copyright infringement. A federal appeals court in San Francisco earlier this month ruled that Napster may be held liable for copyright infringement committed by computer users who download protected songs utilizing the company’s software.

Rosetta’s Web site went online yesterday. The company says it holds the rights to publish 100 older titles, is negotiating for hundreds more and hopes to eventually have the rights to sell thousands of works.

In its complaint, which was filed today, Random House said it has made “substantial investments” promoting the works of the three authors. The company warns that RosettaBooks will expand its operations to include other Random House titles unless U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein issues an injunction.


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