GIving Your Books Away — Legally

Got this email back before Christmas:

I don’t know if you’ve heard this or even if it’s legit, but someone posted [in a forum] that the FTC/FCC is cracking down on book giveaways where the winner is chosen by random because it is essentially a sweepstakes and is governed by very specific rules. Rumor has it there are fines. I don’t want you to get in trouble just in case this is true. I don’t know if it is and there are still plenty of giveaways going on. I just wanted to let you know.

From what I’ve read it seems like we can’t do giveaways and contests, but I’m not that savvy with this kind of stuff. My husband doesn’t think they can prevent contests but, again, I keep getting conflicting information so I look forward to reading your take on it. Thanks!

I did some research—for myself because I do a monthly book giveaway here—and also for you because I know a lot of you give away books on your blogs and/or participate in blog hops. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble.

I also don’t want anyone to PANIC because, well, there’s just no need to do so.

YES, you can give away books on your blog.

YES, you can select winners at random.

BUT…there are definitely some regulations on what you say, where you say it, how you say it, who can enter, blah, blah, blah.

Based on my research, I made a few changes to my monthly giveaway, the most noticeable is that now you have to enter to win using the form in the sidebar. Previously, you could enter just by leaving a comment—on any post. While this is still a good idea for blog hops and short-term contests where someone comments on A SPECIFIC POST, it doesn’t work so well here.

To the best of my understanding, these changes make my giveaways compliant with FTC/FCC regulations. Over the next few days, I’m going to post more detail about what I learned and how it applies specifically to blogging authors who want to do giveaways—as I understand it.

But just remember, I am not an attorney. I might be wrong.

In the meantime, here are some articles that I found. Some of the info is repetitive, but each of them adds some extra insights and thoughts on the subject.

Watch Out for Libel

Are you aware of any guidelines or rules of thumb for including actual people/places/events in works of fiction? I know this is commonly done in historical fiction, but what about works set in the present or recent past?

If there are no guidelines, what are your own thoughts on this practice?

Places and events aren’t too much of a problem, it’s people that can get you into trouble. The main thing you need to worry about is libel. If the person is still alive and they feel that what you’ve said about them has damaged their reputation, they can sue for libel. Public figures, celebrities, politicians, etc. are generally safe to write about, unless they can prove malice on your part. You can read more about it here and here.

Where you really get into trouble is if you fictionalize characters that you know on a personal basis (like neighbors or family members), and they are recognizable to themselves and to other readers, and they don’t like it, they can sue. Or possibly never speak to you again. This can be a problem in memoirs, where an author’s story is tied up with the stories of the people in their lives. It’s a fine line and has to be handled carefully.

If you’re going to include a historical person in your fictional piece, you should do enough research that you can portray that person accurately and fairly.

I guess my bottom line is, I wouldn’t want someone writing about me without my permission and approval of the text, so I extend that courtesy to others. If it’s a quick reference to a public figure like, “Debra had a crush on George Clooney…” or even Debra having a brief conversation with George, I’d be fine with it. But if Debra was having an ongoing relationship with George, that I wouldn’t do without George’s signed and notarized release form in my files.