The most crucial issue facing the publishing industry as a whole are the technological advances that are giving the consumer multiple streams of content, but may be leaving the authors and intellectual property rights behind. If and when a company takes content that was originally set up with the author and one set of contractual tenets, does the publisher than have the ability and right to take that content and re-use it in another title, or repackaged in another format completely?
Companies are furiously looking for new and varied revenue streams by tapping into content that was relevant in the past and has maintained its attraction for the consuming public. If a title was published in 1988, before the rights for electronic and digital formats were born, can the company use the content in a variety of ways without first getting the approval of the author who penned the content in the first place? The avenue for big publishing profits with little royalty pay-outs is something that lawyers will be looking at for some time to come. Also, what are the parameters for usage that would signify a breach on the part of the publisher? Would it be 500 words of usage? 600 words? If only 100 words were used directly from the original work, and the integrity and scholarship of the work were not impugned, could the publisher rightly claim that the work did not exceed any boundaries and the re-use of the content was thereby permissible? Authors will need to have watch-dogs looking out for them when all content is released from their publishing company in whatever format it publishes.
My solution is a fair and equitable distribution of profits to the authors or families of the originators of the content. A good-faith effort to get authors monies that they are due would help to ease the fears of the authors in the field. If a sliding scale that was universal in nature could be developed for percentages of usage, then I think the tension between authors and publishers would begin to wane. Authors are already dismayed at e-books and the skimpy royalty returns from their sales. Also, some companies are taking steps to ensure that authors are availed certain amounts of royalties when their title is in an e-book format. The Harper decision to stipulate 26 downloads of an e-book license from a library brings this point completely into focus. Harper is leading the way in keeping libraries from having a never ending stream of e-products ad infinitum, since an e-product will never suffer damage in its hardcover format and need to be replaced. As an editor, it is my responsibility to walk the line between loyalties for the company that pays my salary, and the authors I sign to write the books that generate the revenue for my company that pays my salary. It is a tightrope, but those who do it well are the top-notch editors and I aspire to be one of them.