How are rights shifting in the digital age? Last month I attended a Publishers Information Day, organised by the German software company Klopotek, which offered some insights into how the old ways of dividing up rights are being challenged. As Klopotek said: "The definition of pubrights and subrights is becoming more and more granular as most authors and agents no longer agree to the good old: 'all rights, for all languages, for all territories' anymore."
Has territoriality ever been more under threat? In a digital books world, where the physical borders of countries are made, if not completely redundant at the very least more fluid by the world wide web, the idea a reader cannot buy a particular file, because of their location and the territory of the e-book, seems to the consumer at least, ridiculous.
You can see customer dissatisfaction if you go to the review section of the app store. The vast majority of the frustration from users on these shores, is concerned with territoriality. Or just confusion over it. Take "Jon901" who gives the eReader app one star: '...none of the books I want to read are available in the UK. I WANT to buy books and pay the publishers and authors, but I'm not allowed to, it seems UK publishers want to push stand alone ebook reader sales and are restricting formats that can be used on other platforms. I cannot think of a better way of forcing people into piracy.'
Or take another one star review for the eReader by'Futuresgreen', which is titled Frustrating, and ends: 'Come on developers, get a grip, the UK ereader market is massive, it's about time you started to cater to it.'
We in publishing, of course, know that this is not some grand conspiracy to deny British e-book fans content; all the publishing folk at the Klopetek conference were keen to get both their printed and e books out, but these are real consumers voicing real frustrations, and it should be of massive concern to publishers.
At the 2010 Digital Book World Conference Devereux Chatillon from Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP summed the issue pretty succinctly: "This is an era when you have to give the consumer – or hopefully sell to the consumer – what the consumer wants. If you don’t you run into lost sales, piracy, and also losing the consumer not just to other books or to pirated books but to other media. Looking at that, territory can very much get in the way.”