Are Lawsuits Against Writers About to Rise? – Day 334

One of the services that publishers provide that many self-publishers won’t have access to is legal advice. I figure it’s only a matter of time before some poor writer pays the price.

We’ve all heard the stories about “legal” not thinking such-and-such is a good idea. I believe I’ve experienced similar things in my day job (though not in my fiction… yet). It seems like a hassle, but I’m certain that they’ve prevented lawsuits from happening just by stepping in.

But what happens when this process is skipped? Can the author really be opening himself/herself to a lawsuit? And what happens then — do they have to pay for a legal defense all of a sudden, or will it be simply a cease and desist type thing?

I started thinking about this today as I was writing myself. I have mentioned a fairly big company, and although I’m not saying bad things about the company necessarily, it’s not exactly entirely complimentary either. It got me to thinking — what if I self-published this, and the company sued me for defamation of character? Would that company be more likely or less likely to do so because I’m a “small-time” writer? And would that company also sue Kindle or Apple or whatever platform the book is on, simply for distributing it? Would that then force the content “publishers” (since that is essentially what they are) to then do a legal review of every ebook before it goes on sale, thus upping the costs for self-publishers?

Would this actually stifle self-publishing altogether?

A lot of ifs, I know. But there is going to be some legal action against a writer — at least, I find it very hard to imagine it is not going to. I might be in a grey area, but how many writers are going to write patently libelous things against a company, and get themselves into trouble?

Never mind companies — how many are going to publically let loose on a boss, co-worker, ex-spouse, etc., and perhaps do the same thing? I mean before, it would be hard to get something so blatant through a publisher, but now anyone can do POD and ebooks on Kindle.

Not sure how this will all play out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we start hearing about these little legal battles starting to pop up.

What do you think? Is this something writers should be worried about, or is it just a figment of my overactive, paranoid imagination?

Got two solid hours in today. Having troubles again with the plot line, but it’s coming. Sometimes I feel more like a sculpture than a writer — adding a bit here, taking a bit away there, and watching the whole thing take shape… Very fulfilling, actually.

More time scheduled tomorrow, so until then…

~Graham

Novel Writing Totals

Today: 2 hours
Total: 160.5 hours

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6 Responses to Are Lawsuits Against Writers About to Rise? – Day 334

  1. Unless it puts the verisimilitude in question, change the name. Most authors play with the names of existing companies, or create new ones. Unless you’re taking on an actual evil corporation, then there’s no reason to get a little paranoid. Amazon, iTunes, and Google, can’t be sued for anything, because when you sign the contract with them they say they have nothing to do with what you write. Unless you’re writing really extremely vile stuff, your hosts won’t get into trouble. Amazon was taken on by CNN for some of the offensive books they hosted. Amazon removed the books after the attention and complaints, but nothing of a legal challenge came forth. It looks as if Amazon is doing its best to protect our freedom of speech.

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hey Duncan,

      “…nothing of a legal challenge came forth.”

      I think that’s exactly what’s going to have to happen. I do think that in this case Amazon (Kindle) and iBooks are the publishers, even if they are promoting “self-publishing”. Contracts, even laws, etc. are worthless really until they are challenged in court. Me signing a piece of paper that says “don’t sue them, I was the won who wrote it” won’t stop a corporation’s legal department from taking Amazon to court as the publisher if they want to…

      BTW, I’m not so much worried that Kindle will “get in trouble” so much as start demanding a more rigorous (and therefore, expensive, time-consuming) vetting of any books they put up, effectively killing the self-publishing spirit in an attempt to protect themselves legally.

      I don’t begrudge them that, but it will take away from the Wild-Westness of the current publishing frontier.

      ~Graham

  2. Kelly says:

    Graham,

    1. Is it a product of your overactive imagination… Well, if you don’t have an overactive imagination, you won’t be much good at this. So maybe, but that’s a good thing.

    2. I’m no lawyer, but I’d disagree with Duncan on the necessity of taking out the name. It makes a fine extra precaution, but big corps do get mentioned in passing in lots of fiction. Which brings me to…

    3. I think self-publishing writers would be wise to ante up a few hundred bucks to have a real lawyer with experience in this stuff read their book before they publish. No book that sells only 52 copies is going to cause any legal waves. But if a self-published author had bigger dreams than that, then they should have the good sense to put together a small team to make the work the best it can be… an editor, a proofreader, a jacket and type/book designer, an yes, an attorney. (Could throw in a publicist, a web designer… but I’ll get off the soap box now.) The things you’d get from a publishing house, you now have to self-source to do a professional job and have a chance of competing with the big boys. Otherwise, sounds like a person who’s small-time and aiming to stay so.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    P.S. This legal question (take out Mr. Big Company’s name or no) would be good on Quora. There are some lawyers on there who get a kick out of questions like this.
    Kelly’s most recent blog post: Inspiration Points: Dying Craft? Be Amazing and Hang On

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hey Kelly,

      I agree, self-published authors should search out all these services. In fact, I think that is what many “publishers” will be in the future — comprehensive services for writers, plus in some cases their logo and publishing reach. Self-published authors today might be excited to source all these things themselves, but eventually it will streamline, and they’ll want one-stop shopping. Legal advice will likely be part of this.

      My main point though is that some writer is going to get in trouble not because they inadvertently offended a company (though that may happen) but because they overtly attack a company in their book. Perhaps it will be of their own stupidity, but I’m wondering (as I pointed out in my response to Duncan above) how that will affect the self-publishing industry as a whole. Stamping “Caution: Contents May Be Hot” on every novel likely won’t cut it.

      Wow, we really are living in an exciting time in publishing, aren’t we?

      ~Graham

      • Kelly says:

        Graham—Stamping “Caution: Contents May Be Hot” on your novel would sell a lot more copies, though.

        🙂

        And I did feel like I slid by the title of your post in my answer without hazarding an answer directly, so to correct that…. Are lawsuits about to rise? Not by much, I’d guess. Most of the New Publishing Universe is just too small potatoes for big companies to care about.

        Overt or not, big co.s just can’t go around searching for every little vanity-published book author (most writers, face it, are not as serious as you are, nor as talented, they just want to see their name on a cover) who takes potshots at them in print. So it becomes more of the signal-to-noise problem for everyone, and co.s learn to ignore all but a tiny percentage of it… just like they do now.

        I don’t think folks who aid in self-publishing (amazon etc.) will rein in their little vanity cash-cows anytime soon for the same reason. These authors make them money, one little dollar at a time, with nearly zero effort on their part.

        (Bit cynical, I suppose. But I think it’s on the mark unless some big scandal rocks the boat.)

        Until later,

        Kelly
        Kelly’s most recent blog post: Inspiration Points: Dying Craft? Be Amazing and Hang On

        • Graham Strong says:

          Hi Kelly,

          Not cynical at all — I think you’re probably right. It may also be a self-controlling system in the sense that if someone sees something they don’t like, Amazon can review whether or not to take it down or let it ride. There is likely no immediate legal risk then, since ultimately that would be the goal of anyone wanting to sue — get the offending book taken down.

          Still, it’s worth it for self-publishers to look at the legal angle as well… you never know… (Maybe that’s *me* being cynical here!)

          ~Graham

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