What is Publishing Law?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2018
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Publishing law is a collective term that refers to any law or regulation that affects the publishing industry, from book printing to music releases and all things in between. There is no single body of publishing law. Rather, the law is a collection of other discreet bodies of law. Publishing law frequently concerns copyright, trademark, and other intellectual property laws. Free speech and defamation law are also often included, along with any other laws that either compel publishers to act in a certain way, or preclude publishers from printing or broadcasting certain material.

The precise definition of “publisher” can be difficult to nail down, which is one of the main reasons that the field of publishing law is so broad. In law, a publisher is anyone who prints or disseminates information. This includes traditional book, magazine, and newspaper publishers as well as film production companies, music producers, the owners of Internet news sites, and even bloggers. In most cases, a work is “published” the moment it is fixed in some tangible medium. Publishing law is any law that touches on any part of any publishing process, which means that it often incorporates elements of other laws, such as entertainment law, Internet law, and intellectual property law.


Intellectual property (IP) laws typically make up the bulk of publishing law. IP law is comprised of patent, trademark, and copyright law. Where publishing is concerned, copyright is usually one of the most controversial and frequently litigated issues. Unauthorized copies, translations, or republications of published works can give rise to copyright infringement lawsuits. Both book publishing law and music publishing law center on copyright law, at least insofar as lawsuits brought by publishers are concerned.

Lawsuits brought against publishers are also a part of publishing law. Publishers are often sued based on the content of the work that they publish. A newspaper article that is perceived to unfairly tarnish a person’s image, for instance, might open the publisher up to defamation lawsuit. Similarly, a film that allegedly portrays someone in a false or incorrect light, or a song that names a person in an unflattering way, might also be the basis of lawsuit against a publisher.

The laws of most countries provide at least some protections to publishers, often under the banner of free speech. Free speech protections allow for the publication of a wide body of opinion and fact, and often prevent lawsuits based on simple disagreement or disapproval with the content of a given published work. Many legal structures also have special protections for journalists, usually aimed at allowing the press to fully and openly report news to the public. Insofar as these laws affect publishers and can inform lawsuits involving publishers, they are frequently grouped within the broader publishing law category, as well.


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