Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Writer’s Legal Guide

Upon flipping through The Writer’s Legal Guide: An Authors Guild Desk Reference: (4th edition), by Kay Murray and Cad Crawford (Allworth Press), I realize just how many legal issues are involved with being a writer.  Just look at some of the topics covered and you’ll quickly realize there are numerous pitfalls to putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Here’s a sampling of subjects covered by Crawford, the founder of Allworth Press and an attorney, and Murray, former Authors Guild assistant director and the deputy general counsel for the Open Society Foundation:

·         Tax laws relating to book sales and income
·         Avoiding or resolving legal disputes
·         Author contractors and ghost-writing agreements
·         Electronic rights and digital wrongs
·         How to use open government laws for research
·         When to avoid libel, defamation, or plagiarism
·         Copyright protection and fair use
·         The limits of free expression
·         Negotiating rights deals for film, stage, foreign, audio, etc.

Publishers Weekly said it is “an indispensable handbook for anyone who writes,” and that may be an understatement.  Today’s writer must be armed with a well-rounded sense of what the law can do for and to him or her.

So who is the book for?  It says:

“This book is intended to be a legal reference for anyone who writes literary works for publication in print and online: nonfiction writers, novelists, journalists, freelance contributors to newspapers and magazines, poets, children’s book writers and illustrators, and textbook and academic authors.  It is structured to cover the legal issues a writer faces in roughly chronological order, from the time she begins creating a written work for publication: understanding and securing copyright, avoiding defamation and invasion of privacy, accessing government information, negotiating various kinds of publishing contracts (including the “deal point memos” that precede many negotiations), finding and retaining a literary agent, taxes, and estate planning.  It will explain how to get the best possible deal for the various ways a work of literature can be exploited suing new technologies, including those as yet unknown.  Even if you are writing for purely personal and not financial reasons, or to promote yourself, or your business, or a cause, you can still use the information here to protect your work from piracy and distortion and to minimize your legal risks.”

That said, the book warns you should still use a lawyer when it’s a big negotiation or you feel confused or not fully informed.

The book covers a lot of territory, making authors aware of what they either need to know, do, or avoid.  One key mistake can screw up a writer’s career.

One of the more interesting sections was on the history of the copyright laws and how they came to be. It also had a good section about using the law to obtain access to government records.  I liked the section regarding the First Amendment.

The book concludes with a list of useful resources, including these:

The Writer’s Legal Guide: An Authors Guild Desk Reference: is a book you never read all the way through but refer to many times over. It should be on the bookshelf of every writer.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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