An interesting experience: We just had to turn down the opportunity to publish an eyewitness account of corruption at the highest level.
This book would almost certainly have covered its costs. It might even have made us a little bit of money. I loved the idea of publishing the story of someone telling truth to power. I was hooked before I even saw the manuscript.
however, it immediately turned into a crash course on libel and defamation laws, injunctions and special purpose vehicles, as well as incorporating in foreign countries to take advantage of different nations’ definitions of libel and defamation. It turned into a nightmare.
Although I do have to admit, it was an interesting nightmare. If it hadn’t kept me awake at night out of sheer stress, if it hadn’t eaten up months of my life with nothing to show, if I hadn’t had to chase lawyers down streets who answered my questions only to get rid of me, I might have enjoyed it. In time, it’ll become one of those things about which you say with an ironic smile. What an interesting experience.
But I’m not there yet. As a public service, let me help out those of you who are writing something that might land you in court.
Here’s the single best piece of advice I received: “To protect yourself from being sued for violating libel and defamation laws, do not libel or defame anyone.”
Seems reasonable, doesn’t it.
So what’s libel and defamation? Stating an untrue fact or so construing information that it is possible to infer an untrue fact. And yes, lawyers really do say phrases like “untrue fact”. In a nutshell, don’t lie. Or, don’t create an argument where anyone might conclude something that is a lie.
So here’s an example. Let’s say that I stand up in front of everyone and shout out: Donald Trump has the attention span of a goldfish.
Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant because it’s not libelous. That’s because it’s my opinion. Opinions are personal. I’m allowed to have an opinion.
Let’s now make it libelous. I publish: Donald Trump has the attention span of a goldfish and I can prove it. Then I show you my proof. It’s an analysis I created, which has markers to identify goldfish and according to this study’s criteria, Donald Trump is a goldfish. As goldfish have short attention spans, Donald Trump therefore has a short attention span. Furthermore, it is possible to infer that a man who has the attention span of a goldfish is unsuitable to be president.
But actually, the study I created is rubbish. It’s a lousy study. It’s not been peer reviewed and it’s not published in a reputable science journal. Therefore, it’s not proof that Donald Trump is a goldfish. Therefore, Donald Trump does not necessarily have a short attention span. Furthermore, the implication that he might not be suitable for the presidency is also libelous.
So if you think that Donald Trump is an ass, or say, you’re publishing about the corrupt, then simply say it. Admittedly, it’s not as persuasive but it’s safer, much safer.
Here’s another superb piece of advice from the same lawyer: “If you can’t afford to be sued, then don’t publish the book.” I can’t afford to be sued. I know few who can afford to go up against this kind of money.
Despite all that, I still intended to publish it. It was just too delicious not to.
I turned it down when it became obvious the author and I could not agree on what the topic of the book was. I foresaw one book; another got written. And I didn’t like it. The author turned out to be intransigent to the nth degree, a foreseeable hazard of a whistleblower. But that’s just my personal opinion.