Kathryn Page Camp
Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal
1. Kathryn, many people feel overwhelmed by the law, but your book, Writers in Wonderland, makes it less intimidating and even fun. Tell us a little about the book and why you decided 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.
2. What qualifies you to write the book?
A. As I mentioned, I’m both a lawyer and a writer, so I’m both a legal expert and my own audience. 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, which means I’ve read a lot of cases involving writers. I also practiced as a regulatory attorney in the futures industry, where I learned a lot about the business world.
3. How is Writers in Wonderland different from other books 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.
4. Why should writers be concerned about keeping their words legal? What might happen if they 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 was 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.
5. Writers in Wonderland has a Lewis Carroll theme, and you even included some of his poems in the appendices. How did you come up with that idea?
A. I’m not quite sure. I don’t remember why, but I used phrases from Alice in Wonderland for the chapter titles in one section. Someone from my writers’ critique group said they sounded out of place and I should either eliminate the references or expand them to the entire book. I had been looking for a way to make the book more interesting, so I chose the “expand” option. I’m glad I did, because finding passages that worked was half the fun of writing the book.
6. You did a lot of research for the book. What part of the research did you enjoy most, and what was the most surprising thing you discovered?
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 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 most surprising thing was the reasoning behind copyright protection, which is actually covered in the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the copyright laws is to increase creativity and make works available to the public by providing an incentive for writers to keep writing, painters to keep painting, and composers to keep composing. The benefits authors receive are secondary to the benefits the public receives.
At least that’s the theory. Today we seem to have turned it around, and copyright bullies intimidate us out of uses that are perfectly legal.
7. Tell us about your favorite part of the writing process.
A. The best—and hardest—part of the actual writing is looking for ways to be creative. I had the most fun rewriting the March Hare’s conversation with Alice at the beginning of Chapter 2.
8. Although the book is called Writers in Wonderland, most of the information applies to other creative media as well. Why did you direct it to writers?
A. You’re right. Almost everything except the chapters on book contracts apply to all creative works. But I’m a writer, so that was my primary focus. Also, there are so many relevant cases out there, that it would have taken me years to read them all. It was simply more practical to limit my research to the written word.
9. Where can my readers get a copy of Writers in Wonderland?
A. Writers in Wonderland is currently available on Amazon.com and is coming soon from other retailers.
10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
A. I just want to thank you for the opportunity to tell yours readers about my book.
AND WE'RE GIVING AWAY A COPY OF THIS BOOK. LEAVE A COMMENT AND YOUR EMAIL ADDY BELOW. GOOD LUCK!