Author's Quick Guide to Libel

Self-publishing your book will most likely be one of the highlights of your life. To ensure that your author journey is an exhilarating, positive experience, there are a few legal items of which you should be aware to avoid any legal issues. One legal issue that can arise in an author's work is libel. Communication to a third party, any false statements of fact about an identifiable living individual, a company or an institution where those statements damage the reputation of that person or party is known as libel.

For each genre of writing, it is very important that you understand and respect the rights and identities of people who may be identifiable within your manuscript. Communication of statements that can hurt, harm, or have a negative connotation towards the reputation of an individual can be considered defamation of character and acted upon in a court of law. The defamation of character that appears in print form, such as a book, is referred to as libel.

A trademark is a word or symbol identifying a particular product or service and is used to distinguish it from competitors of like products and services. Trademarks prevent the use of a product name, slogan or symbol by competitors and also protects against the damaging of goodwill towards the product or service. Your characters may use trademark products and services, however, your legal risk is increased should you potentially harm the public perception of the trademark or cause confusion as to the trademark owner. It is also a good idea not to include a trademark in the title of your book as this will increase legal risks.  

The communication of statements that may cause emotional distress to an identifiable individual within your work is known as invasion of privacy, and that person may have the right to sue you. Invasion of privacy can be (1) revealing, embarrassing and private facts, (2) portrayal of the individual in a false light, (3) intrusion into the individual’s private affairs, or (4) misappropriate the individual’s name for publicity purposes.

Publisher agreements includes Warranties and Indemnities Clauses (see Your Legal Obligations), which state that it is your responsibility to ensure that your manuscript is free from libelous statements or content and that you have not violated the privacy of any individual/s within your manuscript. It is also your responsibility to properly cite and credit all third party sources, obtain permission wherever necessary and properly use and cite trademarks.

Here's a quick check list for libel issues. Seek legal counsel if your manuscript contains statements as facts or implication about any living individual, company, or any other organization regarding:

  • Any statement that could damage their reputation
  • Criminal conduct or conviction of a crime by a company or individual
  • Unethical conduct by a person or company
  • Immoral sexual conduct
  • Bankruptcy
  • Association with distasteful or immoral people
  • Private, embarrassing facts
  • Professional incompetence or disbarment
  • Alcoholism, drug addiction or any other dishonorable acts
  • Possessing a mental disease or disorder
  • Thoughts or feeling attributed to an individual
  • Portraying someone in a false light
  • Minor (aged 21 or less) who is an adopted child
  • Sexual or physical abuse of a minor
  • A minor who is a victim of a crime

Seek legal counsel if your manuscript contains:

  • Trademark, service mark or trade name used in the title of your book
  • Picture, quote or close reliance on a copyrighted work without permission from the copyright holder

If you have any questions regarding further details in publishing law, you should seek the advice of a publishing attorney before proceeding with publishing. If you have already submitted your manuscript to WestBow Press, please contact us so we may place your book on hold while you seek legal counsel.    

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