A minefield that can hit you square in the checkbook in more than one way.
I’m not talking about editing mistakes, character flaws or even plot inconsistencies. I’m talking legal problems that can arise from your writing – and it may not always be from the words on the page.
This blog will highlight a few legal issues that could cause problems but the real goal is to get people thinking about the legal pitfalls that can be lurking on the next page.
However before we begin, my lawyers make me say that nothing in this blog is intended to give any legal counsel. And, hey, everyone’s situation is different so please don’t look at this as anything other than something to get you thinking about issues. If you do have questions about these issues, your situation or anything else related to legal matters, consult with an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction.
If you’re a writer the term copyright shouldn’t be a new one for you. Simply put, copyright addresses who owns a particular piece of writing. While you as a writer own the copyright to your work, at some point writers should consider registering a copyright with the US Copyright and Patent Office.
One area where I worry about copyright is on Twitter. There’s a Twitter event know as Sample Sunday or (W)ork (I)n (P)rogress where writers share a portion of their writing for all to see, read, review and perhaps to be stolen in whole or part without the writer’s permission. Proper copyright would be of great use in this situation.
Generally libel is the publishing of some falsehood about another person. Social media is yet again an arena where I have concerns. Also, it is not unusual to see passages, even in fiction that could give rise to this. Be careful about your status updates, tweets, comments, etc. Once the words are out there they are tough to take back and if they do come back they may bite.
Many writers, particularly new writers, don’t understand that taxes are an area of which they need to be keenly aware. However, in being aware of this issue, taxes can be a good thing or a bad thing. As a writer, you still have to pay taxes on money you earn, but there can be a lot of expenses a writer can deduct. Having a good accountant can really help.
It is not unusual for writers to organize a business for purposes of their writing. There are a variety of business organizations you can use such as sole proprietorships, LLC’s, corporations and others. However it is not always one size fits all. Check with an accountant or an attorney and you can select the appropriate one for your needs and also understand the differences between the entities as well as the numerous advantages each may offer.
There are countless of other legal issues that can take a writer by surprise.
How do limited rights work? What happens if someone steals your writing or even just an idea? What happens if a publisher or an agent violates your contract? What if a publisher or agent alleges you have violated an agreement? Bankruptcy? What if….?
When problems occur, you have to be prepared to address them and sometimes quickly or you could be stuck with some unpleasant results.
This doesn’t mean you need to run out and retain an attorney, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to look around and be prepared. Look into some seminars or conference presentation related to legal issues for writers. Check out writer’s associations who may give recommendations. Even if you just ask other writers what they are doing, this will be a step in the correct direction.
Hopefully no one ever has any problem legal issues other than how to best invest millions of dollars in royalties, but there are a lot of attorneys out there who bank on the fact that you will ultimately need their help and will spend your money with them.
Be aware and think ahead.