No doubt about it, the internet has transformed the face of publishing and grown the audience massively. E-books, digital magazines and other electronic content now sits happily side-by-side with traditional print media. Good news for sales, then.
But hand-in-hand with that increased output comes a larger body of material and a greater potential for mistakes. The kind of mistakes that can spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e. Don’t forget, too, that more people reading your stuff means more eyes ready to spot errors or take offence.
Mixtakes and mis-ups
So, what can go wrong for publishers? Plenty it seems.
Literal liability. If it looks like the proofreader’s mind hasn’t been fully on the job and your material is strewn with typos, your client is hardly likely to be impressed. In fact, it’ll probably spark a claim for negligence.
Image problem. When the jacket image for a novel is less than razor-sharp, people really can start to judge a book by its cover. Likewise for the pages inside. If you’ve signed off the printer’s proofs, you’re liable for the cost of putting them right.
What’s yours is not mine. The whole issue of intellectual property (IP) and who owns what can be difficult to navigate. What’s certain is, if you mistakenly use an image outside the limits of its licence, or reproduce copyrighted material without permission, you can pretty much guarantee a letter from the copyright owner’s solicitor.
It’s also an easier mistake to make than you might think – say a magazine review section features an image from a book but fails to get the say-so of the copyright holder beforehand.
Harsh words. Let’s not forget defamation. If someone reads what you’ve published about them and they say it’s untrue or damages their reputation, then a claim for damages can follow. At that point, it’ll be your reputation as a publisher on the line instead.
Time out. If a project overruns and a crucial deadline or launch date is missed, it can mean lost revenue for your client … and a claim against you for compensation, naturally.
Road to recovery
That’s quite a list. And a lot of potential for actions speaking louder than words.
That’s where publishers’ professional indemnity insurance can help. If your client or a third party claims you’ve made a mistake or failed to do something, it steps in on your behalf – even if the claim is unjustified. It pays for legal expertise, covers all costs and even picks up the tab for any damages.
That’s worth a lot in anyone’s book, because not only can such claims be ruinously expensive, dealing with them yourself is incredibly time-consuming. And since time spent in court or poring over paperwork means time spent away from your business, it also means lost revenue.
Some PI is so clever it even protects you on the quiet. If a publication arrives fresh on your desk but is quite clearly error-strewn from the outset, depending on the policy, PI can pay for a second corrected print-run before the client is even aware of the problem.
How much PI you’ll need depends on your area of publishing and your potential audience. In this digital age, the written word can reach far and wide. And the more people that see something someone claims is substandard, wrong, libellous or infringes their copyright, the more potential there is for damage.
Put bluntly, you can never have too much cover. Defending accusations and allegations of grey areas like IP theft can cost many tens of thousands of pounds. And the more cover you have, the less chance there is you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket.
The last word
There are other ways of protecting yourself. Like swotting up on intellectual copyright law and mastering the art of creating a watertight contract between you and your client. But while these might limit your chances of facing a claim, they won’t make you immune.
When the Duke of Wellington was told a journal was threatening to print scurrilous stories about him, his response was ‘Publish and be damned!’ Fighting talk, but we don’t recommend such a course of action. Better to get yourself clued up and protect your business with decent insurance instead.
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