Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ever Wonder if Your Words are Lawful?


Janine Harrison
"A big part of writing is learning how to cause trouble without getting into trouble," states Michael Poore, fiction writer, "and Writers in Wonderland is an easy course in accomplishing that." On May 1st, Attorney at Law Kathryn Page Camp's book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal, was released. Camp shared some information about the new title with the IWC.
Q: What is your new book, Writers in Wonderland, about, and what made you decide to write it?
A: Writers in Wonderland uses everyday language and shares cases with interesting facts to explain the basic legal principles of interest to writers. The issues include copyrights, defamation, book contracts, taxes, and business matters.
As a lawyer who is also a writer, I have long been interested in these issues. Through the years other writers have asked me legal questions that I was happy to answer or, in many cases, to research and then answer. Encouragement from my fellow writers became the primary motivation for writing the book.
Q: What expertise do you have in this area of specialization?
A: I practiced as a regulatory attorney in the futures industry, where I learned a lot about the business world. I'm a member of the Chicago Bar Association's Intellectual Property Committee and keep up with developments in copyright law. I'm also trained in legal research and believe in doing a thorough job. That means I've read a lot of cases involving writers.
Q: What makes WiW different from other books like it that are already on the market?
A: I'd be the first to admit that there are a number of other legal-themed books for writers, and I used many of them as a starting point for my own research. But they aren't always easy for non-lawyers to understand, and those that manage to limit the legalese tend to be boring. I'd like to think that this book is unique among the competition because it entertains while teaching.
Q: Why should writers be concerned about keeping our words legal? What can happen if we don't?
A: Defamation lawsuits, copyright litigation, IRS proceedings, and more. Many of the high-profile copyright cases were filed by individuals claiming that famous writers stole their ideas. But ideas can't be copyrighted, and all that the plaintiffs got were public scorn and bills for legal fees.
Litigation is expensive, and the parties rarely recover their attorneys' fees even when they win. So it is usually better to avoid a lawsuit in the first place. Victory isn't sweet if your lawyer is the only one who benefits.
Obviously, some writers choose to take a calculated risk. Authors risk defamation lawsuits when they write unauthorized biographies of living people, yet those biographies are easy to find on bookstore shelves. But you can't take a calculated risk unless you know the factors that go into the calculation.
Q: What was the most interesting part of the research and writing process of WiW for you, and why?
A: I love doing research, and I particularly enjoy human interest stories. My favorite cases are the ones that personalize the people involved. The IRS proceeding against Ralph Vitale is a good example. Vitale wrote novels about legal prostitution in Nevada, and he tried to write off his payments to prostitutes as research expenses. The tax court judge found that writing was Vitale's business and allowed him to deduct some of his costs. But the judge also said that certain expenditures are so inherently personal that they can never be business expenses for tax purposes, and he put Vitale's "interview" payments in that category.
The best part of the actual writing is looking for ways to be creative. That's why I chose a Lewis Carroll theme for Writers in Wonderland. I had the most fun rewriting the March Hare's conversation with Alice at the beginning of Chapter 2.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share about your experience writing Writers in Wonderland or about the book, itself?
A: There is nothing like having a good critique group, and it's even better when the group is composed of people from your intended audience. I'd like to thank the members of the Highland Writers' Group for their valuable input.
According to Poore, Camp is "...a lawyer who can be helpful without making us want to scream." As a writer, I know what else would make me want to scream--a lawsuit! Writers in Wonderland is available on and is coming soon to other retailers.

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