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About Writing Right: The Blog


Someone asked online the other day about whether or not a beginning author needs copyright insurance for any sort of liability. He received some ridiculous and potentially harmful answers. Hopefully, my response set him straight.

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There have been some horrible answers here. Possibly because the phrase "copyright insurance" is meaningless in English. There is no insurance for copyright of which I'm aware because it's unnecessary. If, however, you're asking about author's liability insurance against copyright-infringement actions, then I get it. No one else did, including the respondent who advised you that you won't need liability insurance as long as you write fiction or tell the truth in your nonfiction writing. That respondent is way off base. Here's why.


Anyone can sue anyone else for virtually anything in the United States. Whether or not that plaintiff's action will prevail in a court of law is another matter. So, with that understood, it all boils down to a question of likelihood. Just as with any type of insurance coverage, you have to ask yourself about the chances of your needing it before buying it. As a writer, in other words, you won't actually need liability insurance until you actually need liability insurance.


Now, what are the chances a first-time author will need insurance? That depends. If you're an author without a publisher, you won't need it at all since no one will read your book or article outside of you and, perhaps, a close group of family members or friends. If you plan on self-publishing, however, the chances of you getting sued increase substantially—particularly so with controversial material or material with which someone else might take issue. I'm guessing a book or article on how to grow tomatoes won't raise much of a ruckus.


If you're publishing a book with a conventional publisher, on the other hand, rest assured that your book will have to pass muster with some watchful corporate attorney on the publisher's payroll. Any potentially libelous areas will need to be expunged. Either that, or the publisher will rescind its publishing contract, and you're back to square one: You have no liability insurance because you need no liability insurance … yet. On the other hand, if you're sued despite your publisher's best efforts to discourage such actions against you (and, probably, them), most conventional publishers will go to bat to defend their authors in court, assuming the authors haven't acted in bad faith.


All this information assumes from the nebulous structure of your question that you're writing a book or article from scratch and that you aren't knowingly stealing or plagiarizing someone else's work. Still, you don't want the hassle of someone coming after you and suing you for unwittingly doing so. In other words, you want to know how to protect yourself from accidentally overstepping your bounds and infringing upon someone else's work. Correct?


If that's so, then I'd suggest your insurance agent or attorney may be able to advise you. Or, better yet, check out membership in the Author's Guild, which offers the lowest cost authors' liability insurance I've found—by far! That's not a plug for them, just the truth. If you want more information about the Guild or their insurance plans, please contact me at my Website.


The bottom line is this: If you're worried, an affordable liability insurance policy will provide you peace of mind for a minimal amount of money. Most liability policies, be aware, are prohibitively expensive, which is why I recommend coverage through the AG. The Guild also has attorneys specializing in writing and publishing matters, including those relating to copyright, which might also serve you well. Their advice is free for members.


Meanwhile, smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new ebook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at substack.Com.


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