Indie Authors: Legal Considerations

By Jonund (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jonund (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As an indie author, there are a lot of things to take into consideration. In addition to all the things that go along with being a writer (writing, editing, etc.), authors have to be aware of all the business and legal sides. 

Forming an LLC

Indie authors tend to work more like a business, and for good reason. According to Scott De Buitléir on The Huffington Post, writers should set up their own LLCs, to help protect them against potential lawsuits as well as reap the tax benefits. 

However, lawyer Helen Sedwick writes on The Book Designer that LLCs are not for everyone. This is partly because it costs money ($800 per year in California, though it varies by state) you have to worry about technicalities, such as “piercing the corporate veil.”

Copyright/Intellectual Property Issues

There’s a lot to know when it comes to copyright. J.A. Konrath discusses copyright in detail on his blog, but the gist is if you write something original, you own the rights, and if you want to use someone else’s work, you must obtain permission. That said, there are a lot of grey scenarios, so you would need to consider it on a case-by-case basis.

One thing to think about is fair use, where you use someone’s work for a limited, transformative purpose (and there is a test you can apply). Stanford University has a more detailed explanation. Also, Lenz v. Universal, or the “dancing baby” case was recently ruled to be an example of fair use. According to Publisher’s Weekly, this is a big case because it “affirmed that copyright holders must consider whether an unauthorized use of a copyrighted work may be protected by fair use before seeking to have it removed from online platforms like YouTube.”

Another thing to keep in mind, however, is that book titles cannot be copyrighted. In some cases, you can have a title trademarked, according to Helen Sedwick. But to be eligible to trademark, you must have a unique, distinctive title, that’s not just a description, that’s either part of a series or part of a business.

If you are concerned that your work is being stolen or pirated, or if you find yourself fighting to defend your work as your own, check out Ron Glick’s guest post, “Intellectual Property and the Indie Writer.”

Hiring a Lawyer

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need a lawyer, make sure you hire the right kind of lawyer. Helen Sedwick has an excellent post on her site, called “How to Hire an Attorney,” that explains what you should look for in a lawyer.

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