Self-publishing has changed the literary landscape as a whole. While traditionally published authors never really gave much thought to the legal side of writing a book, self-published authors don’t enjoy the same carefree luxury. Sure, when taking the traditionally publishing route there’s the contract with the publisher, designer or editor that one must contend with. But self-published authors must be able to manage many more legal complexities without the support or backing of a traditional publishing company.
Unfortunately, few authors ever give the law the time and consideration it deserves. And this is despite the impact it can have on their lives and careers. If you are an author thinking about self-publishing your book in the future, these are some of the legal issues that you should explore and understand:
Images, Graphics, and Copyright
Every competent author understands the importance of not using other people’s written work without their consent. However, most of them forget about copyright issues when it comes to images and graphics. As an author in the self-publishing arena, you have to design your own graphics, including the images on the cover of your book.
A lot of authors think they have the right to take any image or graphic they find through an online search. And, while there are no specific laws preventing you from using the first image you find on a Google Search page for your cover page, such actions open you up to lawsuits.
It is essential that you take the time to understand the licenses behind the images you find online before trying to use them. Fair Use (which allows third parties to use copyrighted work under particular circumstances) can be complicated so do your research.
Any statements you make that have the ability to hurt the reputation of another person will open you up to defamation lawsuits. When going the self-publishing route without a traditional publisher’s legal wing to guide you, be very careful about the manner in which you portray real life characters in your books. Authors can be sued for publishing false and defamatory statements and, sometimes, even just embarrassing private facts about individuals. Even fictional works that closely mimic real life situations and persons can attract a libel lawsuit your way. Check your facts very carefully.
Plagiarism might be the most severe violation that a writer can commit when self-publishing. Stealing another person’s work and publishing it as your own isn’t merely unethical. It is also a punishable crime. Not only can it ruin your reputation, but this form of copyright infringement could destroy you financially.
The problem here is that plagiarism is not always intentional. Authors are usually influenced by what they read and experience. Therefore it’s quite possible to subconsciously regurgitate ideas that you do not realize you read from the works of another author. For this reason, when self-publishing, it’s a good idea to invest in professional editors and even beta-readers that can spot the potential plagiarism in your works.
Certain topics are controversial for some people, so much so that they could attract legal penalties in certain countries. For example, India has banned books for proving too demeaning to the honor of the nation. Authors in certain Asian countries have faced jail sentences for making statements in their books and tackling topics that their governments considered unacceptable. This is especially true for self-published authors whose works cannot be destroyed in the literal sense. The authorities, in this case, resort to meting out legal punishments as their only recourse.
Brand Names and Trademarks
When fiction authors create new stories, they like to ground their characters by inserting them in the real world. And the only way to add the necessary sense of realism is to utilize those elements of normal life that spark familiarity with the average reader. However, though it might make sense for your characters to sport the latest trends to accomplish this goal, authors mustn’t overlook the importance of brand names and trademarks. Before clothing your protagonist in the latest Prada fashion, you need to ask yourself what the Prada brand thinks about your content and whether or not they would want to be associated with you.
Take Google for example. In 2013, they took steps to prevent people from using their name as the default term for searching the internet. Tarnishing a brand like Google will open you up to defamation lawsuits, and that’s if you are lucky.
Authors choosing the self-publishing route must learn to juggle many hats in their pursuit of success. While most new authors may anticipate the marketing, promotional and financial elements that go along with self-publishing, seldom give proper consideration to the possible legal matters that can arise. Before you choose to enter this world, understand that you will be responsible for any legal ramifications that result from your published works. So always make sure to do your due diligence.