Libel Insurance for Authors

Mar 10, 2015

Justice Gavel

We’ve had a few clients recently inquire about buying libel insurance to protect themselves in the event of a lawsuit when their books are published. We didn’t immediately know where to send them. In truth, we’ve worked with hundreds of non-fiction authors and yet don’t know a single person who has secured their own libel insurance. Why not?

Libel insurance is expensive, and most manuscripts don’t contain defamatory material so aren’t a risk. Furthermore, many authors who work with traditional publishers already have protection. Larger publishing houses often have their own libel insurance policies, which may name authors as an “additional insured.”

But not all do. And every publishing contract is different. Some are more generous to authors than others. Many indicate that legal fees would be shared equally by the publisher and author.

If you’re particularly risk-averse or have written a legally sensitive manuscript, you may want more protection than your publisher can give you. If you’re working with a small press, it’s unlikely that it will have libel insurance. And self-publishers don’t have the backing of a corporate insurance policy.

So what are a writer’s options in those cases? We did some investigating.

Americans can consider Authors Guild Media Liability Insurance.

The Authors Guild, a U.S.-based organization for professional writers, offers its members Media Liability Insurance. The insurance is backed by the world’s leading media liability insurance underwriter, AXIS PRO. Authors Guild members fill out a three-page application form to get a quote for their insurance premiums. The insurance covers claims brought against writers as a result of their freelance writing, blogging, and books. Libel is just one issue that the insurance covers; it also protects you from claims relating to invasion of privacy, trademark infringement, copyright infringement, plagiarism, and errors and omissions.

This program is only open to authors who reside in the United States. American writers can review the Authors Guild eligibility criteria to determine if you’re eligible for membership, and therefore this insurance program.

Canadians need to work a bit harder for their insurance.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an equivalent program that makes it easy for Canadian writers to access libel insurance. A couple of years ago, the Writers’ Coalition, which provides health benefits to writers, was investigating the possibility of setting up such a program.

Jason Saulay of the Actra Fraternal Benefit Society, the non-profit insurance company behind the research, was quoted in an article on in January 2013 as saying: “I’m trying to figure out if there’s an actual need for this and who needs it. People say they want this, do they actually want this? What are they willing to pay?”

Saulay confirmed for us last week that the insurance program has fizzled out. “We were testing the waters a couple years back but nothing material has come from it,” he wrote in an email.

With a bit more legwork than their southern neighbours, however, Canadians can access the same insurance as Authors Guild members. There is a company in Winnipeg called Multimedia Risk that supplies libel insurance to individual authors using the underwriter Axis Pro (the same one behind the Authors Guild program). Writers need to fill out an extensive 11-page application form in order to secure a quote and to determine what level of coverage they would get. The company assesses the risk of each specific book. The premiums for these policies start at $1,500/year, or $4,000 for a multiyear policy.

It’s still critical to vet your manuscript carefully.

The best way to ensure you don’t end up slapped with a libel suit is to ensure your manuscript doesn’t contain anything libelous in the first place. To understand the very basics of defamation, you might read this overview by the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association. An experienced non-fiction substantive editor will be able to flag potentially libelous sentences and passages. Make sure you tell him that you’re looking for that guidance before he begins the edit, so he will pay particular attention to it.

If there’s any question that something you’ve written is libelous, we highly recommend that you hire a lawyer experienced in defamation to review your manuscript. Most such lawyers charge around $400/hour, so only in the rarest of cases would you want them to read the entire manuscript. It’s most cost-effective and efficient to pull out only the passages that concern you and send those to the lawyer to review. She will come back telling you what is acceptable and what isn’t, and suggesting revisions you can make to protect yourself.

When you look for a lawyer, make sure she specializes in defamation and media law. Two of the lawyers we have worked with and can recommend are Daniel Burnett in Vancouver, B.C., and Peter Jacobsen in Toronto. Both are very busy, so you will need to give them as much notice as possible.