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You are just out to tell your story, but what kind of legal issues can you face when publishing your book? Whether non-fiction or fiction, there are legal issues and pitfalls to avoid. When writing non-fiction, there are five areas that can bring up legal issues for writers: Defamation, Copyright Infringement, Right of Publicity violations, Breach of contract, and Trademark infringement.

Defining Five Legal Issues in Writing Non-Fiction

These five legal issues in publishing are the most common issues writers deal with.

  • Defamation: You have stated something about someone alive that is either false or bad and the person can be damaged by your words.
  • Copyright Infringement: You have written, posted, or displayed someone else’s work, copied it from another source without getting permission and/or giving credit.
  • Right of Publicity Violation: You have used someone else’s name, image or likeness for commercial exploitation.
  • Breach of Contract: You have signed a Non-Disclosure or Confidentiality Agreement in the past and are breaking the binds of that contract.
  • Trademark Infringement: You are using someone else’s trademark to sell your goods/services.

Other Legal Issues to consider when Publishing Fiction or Non-Fiction

Even when you write or publish something that is true about someone else, you need to consider the Invasion of Privacy Issue. If you make a statement that can be attributed to an identifiable living person, is offensive, and is not of overriding public interest, you could be opening yourself up to a legal battle.

It’s a good idea to research Disclaimers before you publish your book. These are great strategies for avoiding legal issues. A standard publishing disclaimer in the front material of your book, no matter the genre or whether it is fiction/non-fiction can clarify your intentions and avoid legal issues. Standard publishing disclaimers can be found on the internet

Your book and Legal Issues in the Publishing Industry

Consider the following list to help you minimize your risks:

  • Be cautious about stating something about someone or a business.
  • Hide identifying features if you are patterning a character after someone you know.
  • Tell your story from your perspective, without drawing conclusions. Let your readers draw their own conclusions from your general facts.
  • Use satire and parody.
  • Memories and perspectives are subjective – especially over time.
  • Get written consent whenever possible BEFORE you release your work.
  • Think about the small characters who may be affected by your story – collateral damage.
  • Rely on public information (police reports, court documents, etc.)
  • Think about how important it is for ‘private’ information to be in your story. Respect privacy.
  • Add disclaimers (see above).

While there are thousands of books published daily and the possibility of your book getting into legal issues in the publishing industry can be fairly low, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Every author dreams of writing a book that ‘hits it big’. So be safe and run your specific situation by an attorney. There are attorneys who specialize in publishing and who can accurately answer any questions that are specific to your needs.

If you’ve researched and considered the above issues, it’s time to focus on your story!