Common Publishing Legal Issues and How to Avoid Them – Annabelle Short | Guest Post


A business of all types – e-commerce companies, biotech, marketing, and software businesses – each have their own unique history put in place by their founder’s visions and principles. And as unique as their history, each company will also encounter their own legal battles.

However, this might be more so the case for publishing companies – due copyright, defamation, and the discrete areas of the law referencing these instances.

Unfortunately, a legal battle can become quite the hassle – especially when something was listed in the terms and conditions but just overlooked. But, the best way to avoid some legal issues that might arise is to become familiar with the most common instances and how to avoid them:


Challenges Dealing with Copyright

To a book publisher, their most valuable asset is the copyrighted content of their book. Thanks to copyright law, publishers are able to control the content, turning it into money via selling books and licensing subsidiary rights (i.e. foreign translation, book clubs), and merchandising.

Therefore, one key challenge most publishers face is learning to understand, avoid infringing on, and exploiting copyrights. The most common copyright issues include:

  1. Author grants. In the publishing process, the first step that must be taken is to properly obtain the rights from the author. Despite how this is done, most publishers do recognize the authors’ right to recover their copyrights when the publisher fails to exploit these rights. In addition, many publishers also allow the authors to retain certain subsidiary rights, too. How to avoid it: Practice good contracting practices to ensure you control the rights needed for profitability.
  2. Copyright procedures. Once the rights have been obtained from the authors, the next step is for the publisher to copyright their control. You might recognize when this has been done thanks to the international copyright symbol, ã. A copyright notice is put in place in the name of the owner and is to remind everyone that the work is copyrighted – meaning nobody can deny knowing that they were infringing. How to avoid it: Ensure you have implemented proper procedures, including registration and notices, to protect your valuable information.
  3. Copyright licenses. When granting licenses to a third person, the publisher is responsible for ensuring they own or control all rights to the license… But, they must also ensure they draft clearly to ensure the licensee does not receive more rights than intended. How to avoid it: Ensure your professional grant licenses are only written under license agreements which describe the rights being granted very clearly and precisely. Then, be sure the licensee and everyone involved understands and addresses the term, termination rules, etc.


Challenges Dealing with Contracts

Aside from copyright issues, there are also issues involving contracts:

  1. Publishing contracts First and foremost, a publisher should keep their main priority as ensuring they are clear and reasonable on what is lined out with the author. It can be a conflicting issue if the publisher assumes they have rights that they author did not have in mind for them. The publisher’s rights in regard to editing the work, final manuscript, appropriate title selection and other issues of such should be clearly defined. How to avoid it: Have a lawyer proof all your contracts and openly discuss all aspects of the contract with the author.
  2. Licensing agreements This is a mistake where a publisher often shoots themselves in the foot… A mistake in a licensing agreement can bring to the surface issues such as how much or if publishers can derive substantial revenues from subsidiary rights. And, nobody likes to miss out on their profit. How to avoid it: Again, this is an instance where it can easily be avoided by having your lawyer review the document.
  3. Distributor and reseller arrangements When dealing with channels of distribution, publishers can run into issues with the discounts to the distributors and royalties paid to the authors. For example, if you give a distributor a major discount, you could potentially reduce the royalty amount payable to the author and dramatically increase your own returns. How to avoid it: Avoid granting exclusiveness unless the license is set up to be terminable at will and on short notice or it incorporates minimum revenue and sales terms and requirements.


Potential issues lie in all different places – from copyright to contracts to privacy and publicity issues. Ensure you practice using a keen eye for spotting anything that does not seem right or could potentially pose a problem.

By staying up-to-date with any changing copyright laws, and practicing proper techniques and ethical standards, you can easily avoid most of these common problems that arise.


Good Practices

When it comes to dealing with the ownership, distribution, and other uses of other people’s work, things can get confusing. It is easy to mess up, but ensuring you are always using good practices does help lower your chances…

In addition to ensuring you avoid copyright infringement and any other mishaps related to copyright laws, there are also a few good practices to keep in place to keep everything running smoothly:

Ensure you are protecting against infringement of others. In addition to not infringing on copyright, publishers should also ensure no one else is infringing on copyright. This includes employees doing their “due diligence” to ensure what the authors have presented is appropriate and not quoted directly from a third-party source.

While most authors are adamant that their work is not violated, sometimes it takes a little tough love to enforce the same strictness on an author. While they claim they did not infringe on any copyright issues, ensure you have them sign off that they will be responsible for any issues.

Authors should be confident that their work is free and clear.


Always double check things with your lawyer

Before making any major decisions, or if you are questioning if something might be an issue…

Always start by consulting your lawyer.

Oftentimes, things are simply missed because civilians do not know what they are looking for. Instead of running to your lawyer to clean up the mistake later, run to them, in the beginning, to avoid having one in the first place.



While some of these issues might sound petty…

Or, you might be thinking to yourself:

“How could anyone forget to do that?”

It clearly happens more often than you think and leaves several people in legal battles and with lost profits – all over simple mistakes that could have been avoided from the beginning.

Issues can arise from a number of areas, including just pure negligence.

Consider how you would feel if you were on the author’s end of the spectrum and it was your work being used and/or abused…

Take into consideration that this is their masterpiece. And, it is imperative that you treat it as such.

The best, simple advice for all of these common issues is to invest in quality legal help.

Don’t wait until an issue arises – nip it right in the rear and address it before it ever has a chance to arise.

The bottom line: always seek legal counsel if you are unsure. And, even if you are sure, still seek legal counsel.



Annabelle Short is a writer/blogger, management consultant and seamstress of more than 5 years. She splits her time between London and Los Angeles. Annabelle has worked with many startup companies providing guidance and advice on different topics like marketing and startup financing. Moreover, Annabelle has experience in leading and managing different project teams. Annabelle is a mother of two, and in her free time she likes to sew and make crafts with her kids.


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