In a presentation last week to the San Diego Entertainment and Sports Lawyers I was asked the question: “Do eBook authors that self-publish submit their books for some kind of legal review?” (You can see the presentation here on Slideshare.)
I had to admit that I've rarely heard this topic discussed in any detail in the forums or meetings I've frequented much less been asked my opinion by one of my clients. On the other hand is it possible that most self-publishers engage a lawyer? I'm not sure but my sense is that the majority of authors going the self-publishing route give it only passing attention unless perhaps they have a large exposure—i.e. they have a lot to loose financially. (Not that this should be the only reason.)
Laws and business practices change; a disclosure or disclaimer that used to be “standard” may no longer protect you from defamation or some other claim. I am not a lawyer but doesn't common sense and respect for fellow rights holders dictate that we authors consult an attorney versed in publishing law before we take our work public?
Thinking generally about book publishing I've identified 5 areas that deserve special focus by self-publishers. Regardless of your subject matter or exposure I suggest you seek legal advice before you click the submit button.
1. Book covers: title, images (if any), trademarks and the statements you make on the back cover in the case of a print book. Are you making any claims that may need a disclosure? Keep in mind that some images are licensed for specific uses and/or can be used a limited number of times before they need to be re-licensed. One of my non-profit clients found a terrific image in Creative Commons but the license did not provide for commercial use. He explained his situation and the France-based rights holder said fine, but she still wanted payment. So he proposed $25 (lower than I would have offered) and she accepted. His honesty was rewarded with a lower-than-expected licensing cost.
2. Images: speaking of images, is each one properly credited? And are they licensed for how you are using them? Perhaps it was a non-commercial license image that you first used as part of a blog post. Now is the time to either get a license, written permission, or find a new image.
3. Attribution/Credit. Depending on what you are crediting, the rights holder may have their own requirements for attribution. Respect these and credit the work exactly as you've been asked. In some cases, such as brief quotes, it is a simple exercise. As an author how would you feel if someone quoted you without or with limited attribution?
4. Trademarks. Sometimes adding a ® or ™ is sufficient, but it may also be necessary to add specific language to your copyright page. For my own book my attorney suggested I contact Amazon because I use the trademarks Amazon and Kindle in the title plus I was showing images of their Kindle reading apps. Amazon responded in less than 18 hours that the title was fine as long as I referenced their ownership of the trademarks on my copyright page.
Note: many of the larger trademark holders have a section on their website that addresses issues like this so make that your first stop.
5. Copyright. You can copyright your own works, but did you include any third-party content? If yes it's time to call your lawyer. In fact if this is part of your editorial plan you should consider talking with an attorney before you begin writing your book.
These are just the more common issues that arise in publishing a book but there are many others such has how the author references events, companies or people. A small investment before you publish can be valuable insurance against future claims. To find a qualified attorney consult a trade association such as the Independent Book Publishers Association or Google “publishing law.”