France: digital publishing contract entered into force

With thousands of e-books and digital tablets sold in the last few years, the French Intellectual Property Code (Code de la Propriété Intellectuelle français (CPI)) has recently changed in order to reflect these technological developments by incorporating specific provisions relative to publishing in “digital format”. These amendments have been requested and encouraged by authors and the Publishers’ Union (Syndicat de l’édition) who have outlined their desires to see this new form of operation in a Framework Agreement on e-books dated March 21, 2013.

The order of November 12, 2014 thus adds and amends several Articles of the CPI to include the digital publishing contract. For example, Article L. 132-1 of the CPI on the definition of publishing contracts is drafted as follows: “A publishing contract is a contract whereby the author of a work of the mind or his successors in title assign under specified terms to a person referred to as the editor the right to manufacture or have manufactured a number of copies of the work or to publish or to ensure its publication in digital format”. The reference to publishing the work in a digital format has been added on numerous occasions in the chapter dedicated to publishing contracts, whenever deemed necessary.

Apart from these amendments, it should be noted that two subsections have been added to give more clarity to the outline of this chapter: one named “General rules” with references made to the digital format, and the other named “Special provisions applicable to publishing a book” where the difference in regimes between the two forms of exploitation as well as remuneration issues of the author are highlighted. In this regard, it should be noted that a separate section in the agreement must, for example, be dedicated to the transfer of digital rights. In the same vein, the termination of the transfer of rights in a printed format will not affect those of the digital rights, and conversely. Thus, exploitation on paper and on a digital media are clearly distinguished. Finally, in addition to the digital aspects, new provisions also address the forms of accountability due to the author by the editor as well as all the recourse available to the author in the event of non-compliance with this obligation, or yet the option for one of the Parties to terminate the contract where a sustainable lack of economic activity has been ascertained in the exploitation of the work.

Henceforth, the concept of publishing contract includes the publishing of physical copies of the work and its publishing in digital format. This change has been expected for a long time. It is a major step forward and offers legal certainty in the digital era, in accordance with the case law.