December 15, 2005
Digital books and intellectual property

For those of you who have been following intellectual property issues, some of the attention is being diverted from music and film companies and toward the digitizing of books and who owns the rights to those digitized copies.

If you've been following the news this week on these issues, you may have seen that, at the beginning of the week, HarperCollins announced that it will be entering actively into the digital book market by digitizing its active backlist of an estimated 20,000 titles "and as many as 3,500 new books each year," according to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Kevin J. Delaney with The Wall Street Journal.

HarperCollins appears to see this as a preemptive strike after Amazon has already not only made money with the options for readers to search individual pages and see digital pages of a book they might potentially buy but has then charged $1.99 extra for customers to have access to digital copies of books it buys. HarperCollins questions whether retailers should have the ability to have that type of control over content owned by the publisher and are thus going to provide digital copies that will be available to Google searches, for instance, but will remain in a digital warehouse on the HarperCollins server.

This could provide great revenue opportunities for the company in the future and could be great ways to access titles long after the physical properties have gone out-of-print. In this way, there's no way that the decision won't be a benefit for all involved. However, all of the intellectual rights issues surrounding this decision are still very much left hanging in the balance, as players like Google, Amazon, and publishers continue to try and decide who has rights to what when it comes to digital print content.