The plight of would-be author, Australian citizen Harry Nicolaides, currently languishing in a Thai jail for allegedly insulting the Royal Family, reminds all of us, publishers and authors alike, of the vital importance of seeking legal advice before going to press.

Nicolaides has been jailed for three years after it was claimed that a reference to the crown prince in the author’s self-published novel, V’, was deemed offensive. Nicolaides says he printed fifty copies of his book and sold seven. It wouldn’t have mattered if he’d only sold one copy because Nicolaides forgot – an inexcusable error for a budding writer – the power of the written word. Remember Salmon Rushdie? Alexander Solschenizyn? The written word has the power to topple regimes and invite death threats. Hiding behind the label of “fiction” is no defence if someone with a gun has decided to take offence.

It is also no defence against a legal writ. For that very reason A&A Publishing has a legal team review any manuscript that has the potential to be defamatory. This adds to the cost but it is an insurance policy to both the author and our publishing house.

Were you aware that even self-publishing houses are potentially liable for anything defamatory that one of its authors publishes? That’s right. The author can be sued and so can the publisher, even if the author has invested in his or her own work.

That being the case, A&A Publishing has very strict guidelines in place. Autobiographies and memoirs are reviewed by our legal team as a matter of course. In several instances the reviews have resulted in passages being rewritten or deleted. We have also been in the situation of insisting that one of our titles be sold only in Australia because, as Harry Nicolaides has discovered, the legal freedoms that we enjoy as Australian citizens do not necessarily apply elsewhere.

As already mentioned, it is also not enough to think that you can hide behind opinions disguised as fiction. We have recently instructed one of our authors, the writer of crime mysteries, to change the ending of a story because of legal advice that the organisation named as being responsible for the fictitious crime might be prepared to sue. The author resisted, he wanted to “publish or be damned”. I told him that I would not be his publisher unless he was prepared to follow the advice given. He changed the ending.

I would be neglectful in my duty to my authors if I did not always ensure that they receive the very best legal advice and that includes the very important matter of copyright. As a writer and publisher I view copyright violations very seriously. Whether we’re talking about music being downloaded from the Internet, or pirated DVDs, or quoted words not being acknowledged, copyright violations are disrespectful to the original artist. How would you feel if a poem you had created was being quoted around the world but you were not acknowledged as its rightful creator?

With each new project that A&A publishes we make every attempt to ensure that permission is sought for quoted material and that it is properly acknowledged.

I think of the policies we have in place as a form of publishing karma; if we do what is right by other artists then others will respect our books.

Finally, let me say this to all you writers out there; write fearlessly with no thought of lawyers or censorship. Let what is best for the story and the characters become your only guiding principles. But then when the story is done and you are going to publish, look at the story with new eyes and be prepared to negotiate with your publisher and their lawyers. There are many ways to say things; that is the beauty of language, and often manuscripts are improved with a re-write. My author of the crime fiction told me he prefers the new ending over the original. I’m sure that if Harry Nicolaides had the option he would re-write the passage in question in a second and that he will never again forget the power of the pen.

“When in doubt, check it out” is the stance that A&A takes when it comes to protecting our authors and our business from future liability. It should be your stance too.

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