E-Book Pioneer Fights to Stop Format Transfer

CLEVELAND (CN) – A member of a global electronic publishing association sued the group in federal court Tuesday to stop it from transferring the rights to a popular e-book format to an organization it says will put profit ahead of education.

“OverDrive Inc. brings this civil action to safeguard the future of books and reading in a digital ecosystem,” the company says in its complaint, filed in Cleveland federal court.

The International Digital Publishing Forum, formerly the Open E-Book Forum, was formed by OverDrive and other companies as a global trade and standards association for electronic publishing, including e-books and other digital media.

OverDrive invested with other IDPF members in developing EPUB, the leading XML-based e-book format and a “collective work constituting the licensed copyrightable contributions of OverDrive and other publishing houses, technology companies, retailers, media companies, and other contributors,” the complaint states.

Valued at tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, “IDPF’s most important and valuable asset is the EPUB specification for electronic books,” according to OverDrive.

“OverDrive, like others, believed that it was worth investing in reading, literacy and education,” the company says. “OverDrive trusted IDPF as the steward of that investment.”

The lawsuit states, “It is not hyperbole to suggest that immersive reading was formative to every person who ever made a positive difference in our world.”

But, OverDrive claims, “IDPF intends to transfer the future of reading in the digital age to an organization designed instead to promote websites and e-commerce, where reading will be an afterthought and subservient, if it is valued at all.”

OverDrive says IDPF will transfer all of its assets, including EPUB, in a merger with the World Wide Web Consortium, also called W3C, through its U.S. host, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

W3C is a global organization that develops protocols and guidelines for the internet. OverDrive says that although IDPF was created to promote reading, education and the interest of authors, “W3C has openly and publicly touted its interest as advertising, digital billboards and e-commerce.”

“Unless this Court intervenes, MIT as host for W3C and W3C itself will exploit EPUB on a massive scale, including OverDrive’s contributions, causing rampant chaos, uncertainty and litigation in the electronic publishing industry,” affecting millions of consumers, according to the lawsuit.

OverDrive claims that although it granted IDPF the rights to use its copyrighted contributions to EPUB, that does not extend to W3C. In fact, OverDrive says it opposed the merger and refused to grant a license for its material to the group.

Legally, IDPF has to obtain licenses from every contributor to EPUB before transferring it to W3C, but has not done so, according to the complaint.

“IDPF recognizes that the licenses are necessary but is determined to press forward without them,” the lawsuit states.

OverDrive seeks an injunction to stop the transfer of EPUB, calling it copyright infringement. The company is represented by Mark E. Avsec of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP in Cleveland.

IDPF did not return a request for comment from Courthouse News.