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It's NaNoWriMo! Top 10 Legal Tips for Writers

By Betty Wang, JD on November 01, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. While we can't offer expert tips on how to tackle writer's block, we can address some common legal concerns for those who make writing their business.

This November marks the 15th year for NaNoWriMo -- a month for aspiring and established writers to band together, support each other, and, well, write their hearts out in an effort to complete an entire novel. The goal: 50,000 words in 30 days.

Of course, with such a huge effort comes many legal considerations. Here are 10 legal tips every writer should keep in mind:

  1. Be careful with rights and clearances. Be careful if you're using trademarked material. If your character is grabbing a meal with some golden arches on the bag, you may need to tag on a registered trademark sign, add some legal language, or even get permission to use the trademark.
  2. Avoid libel. Make sure you don't defame someone or commit libel when it comes to your writing. Libel generally exists when there is a false writing about someone else that may harm that person's reputation.
  3. Don't invade someone else's privacy. Even when you write something about someone that is true, you should beware invasion of privacy issues. You could get sued for publicly disclosing personal and private information about someone.
  4. Consider copyrights. You may want to copyright your work. A copyright is a form of protection for original works, such as NaNoWriMo novels. Remember, copyrights are secured with the creation of the work, but it doesn't hurt to add an extra layer of legal protection by formally registering a copyright as well.
  5. Avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism is always one of the biggest legal concerns when it comes to writing. Make sure you don't draw too much inspiration and end up copying someone else's ideas or material.
  6. Research potential tax deductions. Being a NaNoWriMo writer may allow you to deduct expenses as a writer for tax purposes. However, be careful in determining whether your write-offs are business- or hobby-related.
  7. Be wary of disclaimers. Placing disclaimers into your writing (for changed names and to clarify the original content, for example) may give you peace of mind -- but much like disclaimers on social media and online in general, they may not necessarily offer you any actual legal protection.
  8. Pick your font carefully. Thinking about getting creative with fonts, once you publish your new novel? Be careful: If you choose to use a famous font, you may end up dealing with legal fees that aren't worth just a little bit of extra pizzazz.
  9. Look into legal releases. If you're planning on writing a biography or basing your story off someone else's life, be careful. You may have to get them to sign a legal release form that terminates any liability between the releasor and the releasee.
  10. Be careful with fair use. When it comes to crediting your sources and contributors, be careful. You may be able to use the material in your novel, but determining fair use can be tricky.

Yes, that's a long list of legal concerns -- and it can get even longer, depending on what you're writing about and how you choose your words.

If you're stuck on a "novel" legal issue, an experienced intellectual property attorney near you can help you turn the page. Otherwise, get inspired, have fun, and write away!

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