Just a year ago, publishers seemed to have won a critical battle in the “the e-book wars,” noted Copyright Clearance Center’s Skott Klebe, when Amazon was forced to restore the buy buttons on Macmillan titles, after removing them in a skirmish over the agency model. “Publishers got the pricing they wanted, and the control,” Klebe observed. But did they win the war? “Usually, when you win a war, the war is over,” he observed, but soon after came Andrew Wylie and Odyssey Editions. Klebe’s point: with technology, the wars never really end, there is constant tension between innovators, and entrenched interests.

Klebe’s three-hour presentation, entitled “It’s All about Rights” was one of four morning workshops kicking off the 2011 Tools of Change Conference in New York, the conference’s first year at its new, larger home at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan. Conference organizers say it is another sold out conference, with total attendance at an all time high of 1,400. Yesterday’s workshop day also included sessions on designing iPad apps, the state of publishing standards, the latest tweaks to ePub, metadata, and an HTML5 workshop. The conference’s slate of keynote speakers begins today, including award-winning author Margaret Atwood, who will speak about the “the publishing pie.”

Although it was more general than most of the day's sessions, Klebe’s well-attended, wide-ranging talk set the stage nicely for the next two days of discussions. He talked about the origins of copyright, the legal battles from Rosetta to Tasini, to the tensions of the digital age, something he called “the Arc of the Publishing.” In essence, Klebe explained, publishing has been a stable, mature market for decades, but the advent of new technology has created new power and disruption, and it is always difficult for powerful, entrenched companies to participate in the disruption of the markets that made them powerful in the first place. “Yesterday’s hot innovator, becomes today’s dominant leader, and tomorrow’s dinosaur.”

But the disruption isn’t all necessarily coming from large corporations, like Amazon, Apple, or Google, but from individual authors as well, especially the midlist authors who can now use new technology to self-publish and reach more readers at lower prices while still receiving higher returns. All of which, he noted, spotlights the importance of rights. Notably, however, Klebe suggested, even self-publishingl authors would eventually be induced to consolidate, perhaps to get better terms, better costs on things like cover design, maybe a better deal on editing, “maybe a loan against future royalties,” like an advance, and in the end, they will end up forming something that looks like a publisher. It is hard to predict the future, Klebe noted. But history offers lessons: know your rights, Klebe said, and be prepared to make the e-book better, to better help people find those e-books, think about alternative ways of doing things to better serve your traditional customers, and how to serve new customers.

ToC has a full schedule today, including talks from Google, and Brian O'Leary's unified theory of publishing, and this evening, a startup showcase, with presentation on 19 innovative, quite possibly dispruptive, new publishing ventures. Not able to make the sold out show? You can check out the keynotes live.