Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

The legal side of self-publishing

Posted on 21st July 2013

With the explosion in self-published books, I get more and more queries about proofreading or copy editing manuscripts. However, when I ask authors about whether they have checked the legal side of things, I'm often met with the email equivalent of a blank face.

I'm not a lawyer, as is the case with most editors and proofreaders, and though I strive to highlight legal issues and help where I can, you as the author have responsibility for the publication and all the contents within it.

It's a minefield of complex law and will vary depending on the country you're publishing in, but as a very basic overview it's worth considering the following issues while you're writing your book:

  • Copyright and permissions of other people's work: this relates to using text or images from someone else's work (e.g. an extract from a book, poem, play or song or using a photograph or image) which you'll often need permission to include. Moreover, sometimes you'll need to pay for this privilege (even just to use one line from a song) so it's often worth asking yourself if the quote/lyrics/poem really is pivotal to the work. Further details are provided on the Intellectual Property Office website and if in doubt, contact the publisher/author/photographer, etc. direct.
  • Use of trademarks: where possible, and assuming it doesn't affect the flow of your text, it's almost always best to use generic terms rather than trademarks because 'dilution' or negative comments can be open to interpretation. Section 4 of this blog on Joel's bookdesigner.com website has some useful information here, albeit with a US slant.
  • Libel and defamation: again, this is very subjective and open to interpretation but if you're writing about real people, be wary. If you are writing a memoir or autobiography and you're referring to real people, it would be courteous to let them know you're writing the book in advance of publishing it, and if they're a key character then it may be worth letting them see the draft to say they're happy with it. I realise this adds time to the writing process but it's better to clear any issues up at this stage than have to withdraw your book once it's published. Many say there's no such thing as bad publicity but defending against a libel law case could be very costly. This Telegraph article mentions a few interesting examples of libel cases and how changing someone's name or even sex isn't always enough to keep you out of murky water.
  • Copyrighting your own work: needless to say, this isn't as straightforward as perhaps it could be, but to save space here, if you want to know more I suggest you look at the IPO website in detail or look at Christina James' very interesting blog based on a presentation by the Head of Intellectual Property at the British Library.

This blog hasn't attempted to cover all legal issues that you may need to consider when publishing your book, but hopefully it's raised the key themes for you to investigate. If you are in any doubt about the contents of your book, it's always best to ask a lawyer or specialist in the field before spending time and money on 'finalising' the book only to have to go back to the start.

Written by Kate Haigh.