From time to time, authors ask whether they can and should buy insurance to protect themselves against claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, or copyright infringement arising out of the publication of their manuscripts.
At the outset, you should be aware that the vast majority of authors never purchase such insurance, and rightly so. First, most manuscripts simply do not present any meaningful legal risks. Second, many book and magazine publishers themselves carry "media perils" insurance. In most instances, the publishers would be joined as defendants in any lawsuit and would wage a vigorous defense, which could, in some instances, include a defense for the author. Indeed, some publishers have provisions in their insurance policies that allow them to name authors as "additional insureds." (Don't assume this is the case; if insurance is an important consideration with regard to a particular manuscript, you or your agent should ask what coverage, if any, the publisher provides for its authors.)
Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, risk-averse authors sometimes wish to consider purchasing insurance coverage of their own. These days, the concern most often arises in the context of blogs or other online publishing where neither the author nor the web publisher has any applicable insurance. Also, in the context of academic literary publishing, small journals may not have insurance coverage for themselves or their authors. Moreover, even if a book publisher, for example, has insurance coverage, there could be exposure to the author for the publisher's deductible undeer its insurance policy (since publishing agreements almost always contain warranties whereby the authors promise that their manuscripts will not violate the rights of others).
Some writers organizations now offer insurance programs for their members. See, for example, this program offered by the Authors Guild. Crucially, the Authors Guild policy covers defense costs (which are frequently a greater concern than the risk of any ultimate liability to the plaintiff) and has a reasonable deductible of $2,500 to $5,000, depending on the policy. The Media Bloggers Association has announced a similar program specifically for its member bloggers.
Other groups that offer the opportunity to buy media perils insurance as a benefit of membership include the National Federation of Press Women and the Independent Book Publishers Association. (There may be additional requirements, such as experience in the profession and an absence of prior involvements with litigation, to receive discounted rates.)
Insurance companies such as Axis-Pro (formerly known as Media/Professional), the company that currently underwrites the Authors Guild policies, and First Media, among others, will also issue policies for individual writing projects. The premiums vary significantly by project. Often in order to obtain insurance on a book project, an insurer will insist that the manuscript be read by a lawyer, which can add several thousand dollars to the cost. If an author is seeking insurance to supplement the coverage of his or her book publisher, it may be possible, in some instances, to piggyback on a legal read performed by the publisher's lawyer.
University professors may be able to obtain insurance through the American Association of University Professors that covers a variety of professional hazards, including claims arising from articles published in academic journals; however, there may be limitations on the types of publications covered.
You should not rely on your homeowner's policy -- or even on your umbrella policy -- to provide protection from the kinds of claims that writers incur, unless your insurance professional has assured you that your policy specifically covers the relevant risks. See, for example, this discussion of claims against bloggers in the Wall Street Journal.
Of course, your first line of protection against lawsuits is to make sure you have your facts straight (truth is the ultimate defense in libel actions) and to respect the intellectual property of others (e.g., observe the principles of "fair use").
Again, the vast majority of writers will never need media perils insurance. However, if you are writing about highly contentious subjects, you may wish to explore the available options and determine whether the benefits of this specialized form of insurance are worth the not inconsiderable costs.