For the past 15 years or so, most authors who've signed with publishers have explicitly defined their ebook publishing rights. But who owns the rights to the bazillions of books published before ebooks existed?
There's a battle raging (okay, it's actually being handled rather quietly through proper legal channels) right now between publishers and authors over who owns the digital publishing rights of older books. In one corner, you have the authors claiming that because ebook rights were not set explicitly, they retain the right to publish. In the other corner, you have the publishers claiming that ebooks fall under the category of "books" and as such they own the rights.
You can see how this gets messy. In 2002 a Manhattan judge ruled in favor of the authors. saying that ebooks are separate from books. But that's just one case, and there's sure to be more legal action to follow.
You can read more at the link. It's yet another interesting conflict over who owns what, brought about by the gadgets we create. [NY Times]