Even if you are writing a work of fiction, it's very important that you understand and respect the rights of other
people who may be identifiable in your manuscript. If you communicate statements that may harm the reputation of an
individual, that person has the right to commence legal action against you for defamation of
character. When the statement appears in print form, such as a book, the defamation is more specifically
called libel. Libel means to communicate, to a third party, false statements of fact about an
identifiable living individual, a company or an institution where those statements damage the reputation of that
person or party.
If you communicate statements that may cause emotional distress to an identifiable living individual, that person
may have the right to sue you for invasion of privacy. You can invade an individual's privacy by
making statements about the person that: (1) reveal embarrassing private facts, (2) portray the person in a false
light, (3) intrude into the person's private affairs, or (4) misappropriate the person's name for publicity purposes.
Because all publisher agreements include Warranties and Indemnities clauses (see Your
Legal Obligations), it is your responsibility to
ensure that your manuscript is free from libelous statements or content and that you have not violated the privacy
rights of another person or party. It is also your responsibility to ensure that you have properly credited all third
party sources, obtained permission where necessary, and properly used and sourced trademarks.
So that you can better identify and fix areas of your manuscript that may put you and iUniverse at legal risk, we
have prepared this checklist. For your convenience, we have included some specific examples of subjects that could be
of legal concern. Download a PDF
of the Checklist (71KB)
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you should seek the advice of a publishing attorney before proceeding
with publication. If you have already submitted your manuscript to iUniverse, we recommend that you notify your
Publishing Services Associate, who will put your manuscript on hold while you seek legal counsel.
Please note: This checklist may not identify each potential legal issue presented by your manuscript, and your
response to the checklist will not alter or affect any of the representations, warranties and indemnities contained
in your publishing agreement.
1. Has your manuscript ever been rejected by another publisher because of its content?
2. Does your manuscript refer to identifiable1 living persons, companies or
If you answered no to question 2, skip to question 9.
3. Does your manuscript contain factual2 statements that could harm the
reputation of any identifiable living persons, companies or other entities?
4. Does your manuscript state either as a fact or by implication3 that an
identifiable living person (other than yourself):
a. Committed a crime (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, embezzlement, fraud,
b. Was convicted of committing a crime?
c. Engaged in unethical conduct (e.g., corruption, dishonesty)?
d. Engaged in immoral sexual conduct (e.g., adultery, sexual
e. Associated with unsavory people (e.g., members of organized crime,
f. Demonstrated professional incompetence (e.g., disbarment of a lawyer,
loss of license to practice
g. Demonstrated financial irresponsibility or unreliability (e.g.,
bankruptcy, poor credit rating)?
h. Acted disgracefully (e.g., alcoholism, plagiarism, drug addiction)?
i. Suffered from a mental disease or disorder?
5. Does your manuscript state as a fact or by implication that a named or identifiable company or other
a. Engaged in criminal conduct (e.g., price-fixing, racketeering, fraud,
b. Engaged in unethical conduct (e.g., eavesdropping)?
c. Was bankrupt?
6. Does your manuscript contain any truthful but embarrassing private facts about any identifiable living
persons (e.g., drug abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, graphic descriptions of the person's sex life,
references to medical conditions such as HIV, AIDS or venereal disease):
7. Does your manuscript contain any statements about an identifiable living person that would lead that
person to have hurt feelings because:
a. Certain thoughts and feelings are attributed to that person?
b. The person is put in a false light?
8. Does your manuscript contain any references to an identifiable living child4
that state as fact or by implication that the child was:
a. Sexually abused?
b. Otherwise physically abused?
c. The victim of a crime?
If you answered YES to any part of questions 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8, for your
well as for iUniverse, you will need to retain the services of an attorney to conduct a legal review of
your manuscript. If you have already submitted your manuscript, notify your Publishing Services Associate
immediately so that we can put your title on hold while you pursue a legal review.
9. Does your manuscript quote or closely paraphrase from a copyrighted work more than:
a. 250 words from any full-length work?
b. Two lines from a poem or song?
c. 10 percent of an e-mail, diary, letter or other unpublished written
If you answered yes to any part of question 9, you should obtain written permission to
reproduce the material you wish to quote. For more information on obtaining permission see our sample permission
10. Does the title of your work include a trademark, service mark or a trade name5?
If you answered yes to question 10, you should either delete the trademark, service mark or
trade name or obtain written permission from the owner of the mark or name to use it in the title.
1 Living persons, companies and entities could be identifiable even if real
names are not used; if
work is labeled as fiction, you are at
risk if a reasonable reader would understand that your manuscript is referring to those persons, companies or
entities. For example, an unnamed person may be identifiable because that person is the sole person having a
specific job at a specific point in time. Persons may also be identifiable because of their connections to you as
the author or because a person mentioned in your manuscript has a similar gender, physical description, education
and career background as a real person who may complain that references in your work are about him or her.
2 One of the requirements for a
statement to be libelous is that it must be an assertion of fact that is false. A statement expressing the
author's opinion is generally not libelous because it cannot be verifiably proven to be false; however,
determining in context whether a statement is an assertion of fact or of opinion is often a difficult question
for courts to decide. Therefore, if you recognize that a statement in your manuscript may be harmful to someone's
reputation, you should answer yes to question 3.
3 Even if the words
are true and innocent on their face, in context they may contain a defamatory meaning which damages the
reputation of the person who is the subject of the story. For example, if you state that a man and woman who are
married, but not to each other, spent a night together in a hotel room, it can be construed to mean that they
committed adultery although the text does not say so.
4 A child is a minor until the
child is of legal age. In most states, this age is 18 years, but in others it is 21 years. Since neither you nor
iUniverse can control the state in which someone chooses to sue, the most prudent course is to assume that
someone is a child if he or she is under the age of 21.
5 A trademark is a
word, name or symbol or any combination of them used by a manufacturer or merchant to identify its goods (e.g.,
McDonald's, Kodak, Coca Cola, Jell-O). A service mark is a word, name, or symbol or any combination of them used
by a person to identify that person's services (e.g., Blockbuster, Amazon.com, FedEx logo). A trade name is a
name used to identify a company or business as opposed to trademarks used to identify goods and service marks
used to identify services (e.g., MetLife, Pepsico, Exxon Mobil).