Saturday, September 27, 2008

Libel Insurance: The Non-Product

(reposted from The Writing Mother)

So I'm phoning around for house insurance quotes.

I was surprised to hear that the last insurance company offered me "Libel" insurance on my home insurance. To understand the libel issue, you really have to be Canadian. For Americans you have your "freedom of speech". In Canada, the onus is on the WRITER to prove that what they wrote is true. This means you can be sued by anyone for something you wrote, even if it was completely true. If they don't like you and want to shut you up, well, they just have to sue you and put you tens of thousands of dollars in debt, you lose your home and are destitute and suddenly you don't want to write anything risque any more.

Truth is a defense, yes, but it won't stop you from being sued and spending thousands upon thousands in legal fees. So I was kind of hoping that this libel insurance thing was the real deal. But here was the very frustrating conversation:

Her: We offer libel insurance for $200 a year.

Me: Oh yeah? Even if I'm a writer and I write books?

Her: Yes.

Me: That's very interesting, I'm a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and libel is a topic that comes up quite often. See, there's this thing called libel chill where freelancers don't write hardcore journalism as much because they are worried they'll be sued for libel.

Her: Um, can you hold?

Me: Sure.

I'm thinking, crap, why did I tell her that? Why did I admit it? I could have GOTTEN libel insurance. Oh, wait, because it would have been dishonest and they probably would have denied any claim anyway.

Her: Hi, um, so we can't offer that insurance because you publish your writing.

Me: But, it's LIBEL insurance. How would someone know I wrote something to sue me about if I didn't publish it?

Her: Well, if you say something and someone sues you -

Me: - no, spoken is slander, libel is written. Do you offer slander insurance then?

Her: Well, um, no, see, libel insurance is for if someone sues you over something you write. But you publish what you write.

Me: Right. Because for them to read what I write, I'd have to put it "out there", so I'd have to "publish it". How else would they read what I wrote? If you write something on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket, it's not published. But if you put it where someone can read it, like, say, on a blog or in a magazine or in a book . . . then legally it's published.

Her: Right, but you get paid.

Me: That doesn't matter, publishing is publishing regardless of whether or not the writer is paid.

Her: But, we can't offer libel insurance on anything you publish.

Me: Ok, so your libel insurance covers my diary and the notes I write and stick in my pocket.

Her: But if you say -

Me: - that's spoken, it's slander.

The poor girl, I felt a little bad for her at the end. Selling a non-product and not knowing what that non-product even is...


Carolyn Erickson said...

Ha! Heather, that's hilarious.

You may want to check in to the National Federation of Press Women. I don't know if Canadians are eligible(since "National" refers to U.S.), but they told me that many writers like the affordable libel insurance.

Or was that slander insurance? (LOL)

Serenity Now! said...

I'm not sure that insurance purchased in another country would be valid, but it's worth the question! Thanks!