Most of us are familiar with disclaimers. As consumers, we have used umpteen products and services accompanied by a disclaimer. But when it comes to books and other publications, I often hear from writers that they are unsure if a disclaimer should be included in their own work.
The answer? It depends (I know, such a lawyer response). If in doubt, a well-worded disclaimer can be useful.
What is a disclaimer?
Generally, a disclaimer is any statement intended to limit liability for the use of something, like a product or service. The language puts the consumer on notice that the product manufacturer, seller, or service provider will not be held liable for use of the particular item, information, or service. For writers, this means disclaimers would limit liability from our published words, whether in books, short stories, and essays, or on websites and blogs, for claims like defamation, invasion of privacy, personal injury, or relying on information to their detriment.
What must a disclaimer say?
As long as the disclaimer contains easy to understand language that limits liability you think you might be subjected to, then you are on the right track. The disclaimer need not be the boring standard legal verbiage. Disclaimers can be creative, which would up the chances of the disclaimer actually being read.
For example, my legal disclaimers for my blog posts tend to be straightforward.
- Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.
The longer version of my legal disclaimer on the website, however, is more creative.
- Legal Disclaimer: All information provided on the Sidebar Saturdays blog is general in nature and for educational purposes only. Read it, take notes, make comments, ask questions – but do so responsibly. Which means, this blog does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship between you and the authors of Sidebar Saturdays. We have enough relationships, most of which we have trouble keeping up with already. We make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, relevancy, or validity of the information on this site. It’s hard enough finding time to blog in the midst of our busy schedules filled with day jobs, families, pets, writing, and marketing our books. Basically, we never sleep. The tidbits you glean from this blog should never be substituted for advice from a licensed attorney in your state or the relevant jurisdiction. When in doubt, consult a paid legal professional. We’re blogging for free. And as such, the Sidebar Saturdays authors will not be liable for any errors or omissions in the information on this site, or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its use. Sidebar Saturdays is a personal blog and does not represent the thoughts, intentions, advice or opinions of our employers, spouses, children, parents, or pets (no matter how opinionated they can be). In closing, if you use this blog, then you agree to our terms. We are here to provide a basic understanding of publishing law but please remember – always seek professional evaluation when it concerns your legal rights. If you would like to contact us for any reason regarding our Legal Disclaimer, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a few examples of standard writing-related disclaimers. Should you feel the need to beef them up with creativity, go for it. Show your creative chops!
- Non-fiction (e.g. business-related advice, self-help, medical, legal)
- The information in this book is true and complete to the best of the author’s knowledge. Any advice or recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of the author or publisher. The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of this information.
- The information provided within this book is for general informational and educational purposes only. The author makes no representations or warranties, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the information, products, services, or related graphics contained in this book for any purpose. Any use of this information is at your own risk.
- The author of this book disclaims liability for any loss or damage suffered by any person as a result of the information or content in this book. The information in this book is for educational purposes only. Consult a physician before performing any exercise program. It is your responsibility to evaluate your own medical and physical condition, or that of your clients, and to independently determine whether to perform, use or adapt any of the information or content in this book. Any exercise program may result in injury. By voluntarily undertaking any exercise displayed in this book, you assume the risk of any resulting injury.
- The medical information in this book is not advice and should not be treated as such. Do not substitute this information for the medical advice of physicians. The information is general and intended to better inform readers of their health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Consult a physician for matters relating to your health and any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.
- The names and identifying details of certain individuals have been changed to protect their privacy.
- The events, places, and conversations in this memoir have been recreated from memory. The chronology of some events has been compressed. When necessary, the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places have been changed to maintain anonymity.
- This memoir is a truthful recollection of actual events in the author’s life. Some conversations have been recreated and/or supplemented. The names and details of some individuals have been changed to respect their privacy.
- All names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents in this work are fictitious creations from the author’s imagination.
- Names, persons and places in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real places or events is purely coincidental.
- This is a work of fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
If you need more examples, I suggest thumbing through a few books in your genre for disclaimers that can be used as templates. Then edit the disclaimer to fit your particular circumstances.
Where should disclaimers be placed?
- Publishers typically put disclaimers on the copyright page. Sometimes disclaimers are in the acknowledgements. There is no hard rule as to where disclaimers should be placed. Personally, I would place the disclaimer in the front section of the book on the copyright page. The disclaimer will be more visible, and, if read, will likely have more impact.
- Websites, emails, and blogs
- Because these are smaller works, pick a place that is natural. Often you will see disclaimers at the beginning of an article or blog post. Other times, you will find the disclaimer at the end. I bounce around on my placement of disclaimers but tend to add them at the end. Accessibility and clarity is key. If space is an issue, like on a website, use a short disclaimer that links to a longer one found on another page of the website.
How effective are disclaimers?
Any verbiage designed to limit liability serves as both a warning and mitigation of risk. While it is good to use disclaimers, especially ones that are accessible and easy to understand, there is no guarantee a well-worded disclaimer will shield a writer from liability.
Sometimes disclaimers can be used to settle lawsuits. In 2007, Augustine Burroughs settled a defamation suit filed by a family depicted in his memoir Running With Scissors. He agreed to call his literary work a book instead of a memoir, and acknowledge that certain real families portrayed in his book might have memories of the events that differ from his.
I would like to thank the real-life members of the family portrayed in this book for taking me into their home and accepting me as one of their own. I recognize that their memories of the events described in this book are different than my own. They are each fine, decent, and hard-working people. The book was not intended to hurt the family. Both my publisher and I regret any unintentional harm resulting from the publishing and marketing of Running with Scissors.
If you are unsure you need a disclaimer, consult a lawyer. If there is a question of potential risk associated with the use of your blog or website or from the publication of your words, why not add a disclaimer. Like a good dose of elderberry and vitamin C at the onset of a cold, it may help, or not, but cannot hurt. My motto: Better safe, than sorry.
Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.