Wednesday, July 06, 2016

IWSG: 4 Ways for Authors to Avoid Being Sued

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means hundreds of us will be posting about our insecuritiesIf you're a writer, join in!




If you're reading this, you're probably some form of a writer. The extent of your writing may be your personal blog, but you still write publicly.

Did you know your writing could lead to this?



If you've published (or are planning to publish) a novel, it's important to be aware of the legal risks you face. Here are a few things every writer can do to avoid being sued:

#1 Avoid reading unpublished manuscripts




Critique groups and beta readers are essential to any new author. However, you have to be careful when reading unpublished manuscripts. An author could claim that your new book was stolen directly from something he or she wrote, even if you read it years earlier. Many successful novelists refuse to read unpublished manuscripts for this reason. (And others...)


#2 Copyright your work



Known as the "poor man's copyright," some people have found that the best way to prove a manuscript was theirs is to mail it to themselves. However, this method has been proven ineffective. Your work is copyrighted as soon as you create it and, as this post points out, it is highly unlikely someone will successfully steal your work and get it published before you can, so such measures will likely be unnecessary.

#3 Change names and details



It can be very freeing to write about the real people you've known throughout your life, whether you're creating fiction or nonfiction. However, as the author of The Help found out, people tend to get litigious if they see a little too much of themselves in your characters. Know that if you make your characters too identifiable, you may find yourself in need of an attorney once your book is publicly available.

#4 Use copyright-free images


If you're creating your own book covers, you likely already realize the importance of using commercially-available images. There are many authors who know more about it than I do, but it's important to make sure your book cover images are free for commercial use.

If you're still concerned about lawsuits, professional liability insurance could provide that additional layer of protection you need.

What are you insecure about this month?

44 comments:

  1. They made a movie based on that last book - it's called Ted.
    Glad all of my covers were created by my publisher. I don't have to worry about that one.

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  2. I can totally see why big name authors won't read unpublished mss. It's a shame because I bet some of them wouldn't mind helping unpublished writers, but it's a precarious position and why put yourself in it if you don't have to?

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    1. Businesses worry about liability today...and when you write a book, you have to start worrying about the same things businesses do. Yes, so sad.

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  3. I never understood why successful authors don't read unpublished manuscripts. Now I do. That's pretty scary. I used photographs for my book covers, so I'm safe!

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    1. That...and also, as one successful screenwriter pointed out, there's also the issue of "you can't win." If you tell the author anything but, "This is the most brilliant piece of writing ever," they're likely to hold it against you.

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  4. Great tips, Stephanie. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. I don't understand how Amazon is now creating "shared world" universes where fans are encouraged and possibly even paid to write work within an established author's universe (they have to agree to it of course.) but if so many people are sharing and using the same characters in both free and paid work, how do you possibly keep track of who owns and is owed what? Just seems like a sticky situation to me.

    www.cdgallantking.ca

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    1. I didn't know about that. That sounds pretty confusing!

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  6. I know an author who was sued for using various pics plucked from the internet on her blog. She had to take down tons of posts. Really have to watch and give credit where it's due.

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  7. Sounds like writing and publishing a book is filled with potential landmines. Good stuff to know.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  8. I must admit I sent a copy of my story to myself before I began e-mailing and letting others see it. So far I haven't gotten any feedback.

    About changing names. I did just that, and in one case, split one person into three different people. I left some people unnamed if I could not remember their real names. I left my late aunt unnamed, but changed my cousins's names.

    I recently wrote on my blog that I tend to think too far ahead. This included a fear of being sued over using people's real names in my memoir:
    http://jannghi.blogspot.com/2016/06/tending-to-think-too-far-ahead.html

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  9. Just to be safe, as I've been rewriting an older story, I've been changing names because originally a few characters were based on real people. I've also altered characteristics.
    One thing I'm wondering. What's the stand on utilizing real named places? Like a High School? Or perhaps including a celebrity in the story? Is it a good idea to change those sort of names as well?

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  10. No guts, no glory, and sometimes no lawsuits. These are all good points to ponder. One big problem is that it is not unusual for several if not many to get the same story idea. Then there are some who take a story they liked and rewrite it in their words and switch a little. Such is life. I do think people should refrain from writing about a specific person. It's a lack of ingenuity in addition to being downright mean to bring that person's unattractive qualities to life in a public forum.

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  11. I am not a writer but all of this makes me nervous!

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  12. Ah, yes, I actually looked into that insurance before I signed with my publisher. As an attorney, my husband was thinking ahead! Lol. But yeah, it's a little scary when you think of all the possible lawsuits.

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  13. Thanks for the information, Stephanie. As an artist, I know I wouldn't want my images to be stolen and used in others work. So keeping this in mind is a very good thing for writers and all creative people.

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  14. I did think about copyright issues and protecting real life people, however, I never considered all these points. Thank you for the reminders.

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  15. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, I mean the guilty...oh, you know what I mean! ;)

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  16. Attempt #3. Having trouble today... I'm not afraid of lawsuits. When I write characters, I like to combine traits from several people I know. Then no one can be offended.

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  17. Good collection of hints. Copyright--keep the drafts of your novel to show your work. No one could recreate those. Mine go back a decade.

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  18. We need to be careful in this litigious world that we live in today. Also not be ass-holes.

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  19. Thank you so much for these great hints, especially for numbers three and four. One of these days I will write a memoir and there are some people whom I will have to give another identity.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Patricia

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  20. We have so many things to worry about! Even using copyrighted images in a blog post can be a problem...

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  21. A rousing reminder that sharks lurk on land too. These important points belong in a survival book for writers ;-)

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  22. Great, Informative Post, Stephanie!!!

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  23. Great post! The lawyer in me agrees! :)

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  24. It's sad that our country is so sue happy, but on the other hand, there are some unscrupulous people out there. Too bad most of them are filing lawsuits...

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  25. Good advice. I'm sorry that we need it.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

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  26. Great advice. I try not to worry about this stuff too much, but I also try to be careful.

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  27. I've avoided some of these issues by doing my own graphics and photos, and by not including anyone I know in my books. :)

    Loni

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  28. Good information. Always important to look at all things. And maybe have a lawyer or agent to help!

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  29. Thanks for the great advice. I haven't thought about some of these. Guess it's time I did.

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  30. I didn't know one can get sued for writing other people into their novels (names and other characteristics changed, presumably).

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  31. Never gave so much thought!!

    www.volatilespirits.com

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  32. Thanks for this advice! Interesting!

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  33. As always, you provide valuable info. In fact, Oprah has a disclaimer in her magazine about this very thing and won't accept unsolicited manuscripts. This month, I'm insure about a lot of stuff too long to mention in this post. (lol) Better find a way to use someone else's name to discuss it on my Blog. *heh* Hugs... and hope your weekend is going well! RO

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  34. Good information, especially the one about not reading unpublished manuscripts. Something to remember for a possible future.

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  35. I see different stuff on your blog than any other blog I follow, and I really like that. ^_^ And I remember reading about the "mail it to yourself" copyright method, which makes me glad I read up on actual copyright law and found the same thing you did about how it's automatic. Otherwise I'd have an enormous stack of unopened envelopes filled with all my trunked books. >_<

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  36. Great information Stephanie and thanks for sharing. It's sad that published authors can't do more for writers by reading their unpublished work and provide feedback. And I've heard of the poor man's copyright method before but never used it.

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