...in serious bicentennial-type business, it seems that The Big House is relinquishing e-rights to the works of William Styron. While Random House indicated last year that contract clauses like "in book form" implicitly give publishing houses e-rights to any book they publish (e-book rights weren't specifically delineated in contracts until about fifteen years ago), they seem to be reversing their decision with regard to Styron's estate. Speaking for the company, Stuart Applebaum says that the decision is "an exception" and their "understanding is that this is a unique family situation."
The question, of course, is whether there will be (to quote Richard Curtis) "a spate of 'me toos'" in which authors decide to legally challenge their publishers' implicit rights to their books in e-format (assuming those rights weren't negotiated specifically after 1995) and attempt to e-publish with other companies. While I'm certainly not a lawyer, it seems to me that a company as large as Random House wouldn't surrender rights like these unless they believed Styron's lawyer(s) had a strong legal argument that the e-rights to his works were the property of his estate. It's possible that there's something unique to Styron's contract(s) at work here, but it seems much more likely to me that his family's legal team is making the case that Random House didn't specifically acquire electronic rights to his work, and therefore they remain with the author (or in this case, the author's estate).
What do you think, gentle readers? Do phrases like "in book form" include media that didn't exist (and perhaps weren't even really imagined) at the time the contract was signed? If you were (or are!) in this kind of situation, how would (will) you handle it?