Legal

Tips & other legal comments

More about dodgy books & media

Having just written earlier about dodgy books and ebooks being removed by Amazon, etc., last night,

photo by BrotherDarkSoul on WikiMedia

photo by BrotherDarkSoul on WikiMedia

I heard Charlotte Church presenting the 2013 John Peel lecture about women, on BBC Radio 6 music. (I understand the lecture is downloadable from the R6m site).

Charlotte’s lecture was in a similar vein to the dodgy ero*tica book scene; she spoke about the excessive use of sexy music videos that abound, like Miley Cyrus’ recent Wrecking Ball song, and along with the likes of Annie Lennox and Sinead O’Connor, Charlotte added her very clear views about the current vogue in sexy music videos – let alone some of the media projects she had been uncomfortable with, but had to do when she was in her early teens.

Could this be the start of a backlash against gratuitous excesses generally? Do I have grounds here to repeat one of my mantras again, namely, that self-regulation only works while it’s not needed? One probably doesn’t want actual censorship back again, but how to moderate media excesses (including books – nowadays it’s all about content) of the ilk that you don’t want your 8-year old kids to see… especially if you’re the Mummy? What do you think?

Taking a view from the self-pub authors’ position, perhaps it would be no bad thing to keep a clear distinction between general and definitely adult content. The trouble with mixing the two together is that a published book can’t be taken back and changed at a moment’s notice. Your name is stuck out there for years to come… with Google around, maybe forever! Is there a solution I’m not seeing – if so, tell us what you think.

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Dodgy / offensive books & ebooks

I see in today’s news that Amazon, Waterstones, and B&N are all going through their catalogues to root out porn / otherwise offensive titles, as it has been found that many self-pub books and ebooks are ignoring the rules. WH Smith has even closed down its website totally until they have sorted out the problem.

As usual, there is always a minority element that abuses systems that work well for the majority, causing problems and reputation damage for the innocent.  One hopes that there will be some kind of penalty meted out, to drive home the point that what one does on one’s own website is different to what should happen in public.

The above online bookshops have reacted pretty strongly, even going to the extent of searching for all ero*tic (in case WordPress also does a keyword hunt, I’m trying to keep these keyword comments clean!)  keywords and removing such titles wholesale. I guess, with millions of books around, that’s the only way to be sure. It does impact on those authors and publishers that are operating legally, but the fact remains that ero*tica is a grey area that has its risks as well as rewards.

Rest assured that no books or ebooks published by us (both Stellium and Zampub), or our personal publishing titles, ever have such content – we check every manuscript pretty thoroughly, as it’s easy to lose credibility, but very hard to rebuild. We probably wouldn’t have taken on eleventy-seven shades of whatever either, along with many other publishers. Would have kicked ourselves later? Who knows. Where do you draw the line? Reminds one of the old joke where the youngster asks his Dad about the difference between fact and potential – the thing is, I can’t repeat the rest, albeit mild, else you might not see this blog! Have to see how far this issue goes.

Trouble is, lines keep moving, so we each have to decide: set our own limits, or go with the flow. Even David Cameron has recently commented that the line is moving so far that there’s a danger of porn becoming the norm.

Also, remember that most of the world’s bankers over the past decade or so, decided to go with the flow…

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TPS (telephone preference service)

If you’ve been plagued by cold calls, even though you’re signed up to the TPS, at least you’re not alone: the TPS has admitted that many people get up to ten cold calls a month (I get more than that…), because businesses are ignoring the TPS.

I wrote earlier about my mantra, that self-regulation only works while it’s not needed. Well, I now know who the TPS is run by – according to consumer association, Which?, it’s run by none other than the Direct Marketing Association. You might have views on that point, but “I couldn’t possibly comment…”

Legislation is in place about cold calling, clearly it still happens, sometimes placing the elderly at risk of being taken in.

However, there must be a good number of businesses that do follow the regulation, so if you aren’t on the TPS database, you can call them on  0845 070 0707, or register on their website. I don’t have the address offhand, but a Google search will turn it up. It’s a free service, and did work better in the past. One thing it can’t do is to stop those irritating overseas calls. The best  thing for those callers is to tell them to hang on, and leave the phone on the table. Mind you, a few expletives might soothe one’s feelings, too!

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Books – USA Withholding Tax

Here’s an issue for all the self-pubbers out there; if you have a book or books selling through Amazon, you’ll have received a message warning you about IRS withholding tax regulations. Briefly, if you don’t register with the IRS, Amazon and any other entities selling your books (and ebooks) in the States are obliged to withhold 30% of your income / royalties, etc. And it’s not easy to get it back from the IRS once it’s been paid in.

Amazon does give you a reasonable set of instructions about how to deal with the issue, but it may not be clear to everybody, especially if you aren’t good at dealing with forms and tax stuff in general, so I’m putting down a few pointers here that may be useful.

First of all, the bad news. You can’t avoid the issue. Sooner or later, if not already, any commercial entity that sells things for you in the States will withhold 30% of your sales income, whatever form it takes – royalties, direct income, whatever. They will pass this money on to the IRS, and they can’t do anything later about getting it back – you would have to deal directly with the IRS, and your (relatively) unidentifiable money (i.e. if you’re not registered with the IRS ) would be difficult to trace.

Secondly, the good news. It’s actually not that difficult nowadays to sort things out, usually pretty swiftly.

What are needed are an EIN number and a W-8BEN form. Once you have the EIN number, it’s inserted into the W-8BEN form, and you make copies of that form, sending one copy to each organisation that you deal with. They can then release all the millions of dollars you’ve made with your Seventy Shades of Grey book! Provided you’re based in the UK,  there is an income tax treaty between us and the USA, so in most cases, you won’t need to pay any USA tax. If you’re based elsewhere, the same may or may not apply. Check with the IRS website.

The first step is to get onto the IRS website and download a copy of form W-8BEN. Get all the information needed for the form, fill it in.

Then, phone the IRS (I don’t have the phone number offhand, if you can’t find it or the IRS website, let me know, leave a comment on this article, and I’ll trace it for you).

You can deal with them by snail mail or fax, but the system has been upgraded over the years, and the best way is by phone. You may sometimes have to hold on for ten, twenty minutes, but it’s worth the expense to save you grey hairs. I gather that unless they’re very busy, you may get through pretty quickly.

I have found them to be friendly and helpful. They will take down your details (as needed on the W-8BEN form) and if you have all the answers ready, they will give you an EIN number over the phone. You then complete a clean copy of the W-8BEN form, in fact, make a number of copies, as you’ll need to send / fax one to each organisation you deal with. With Amazon, it’s even easier, you can fill in the details online.

You will normally need to be registered with our own HMRC to take advantage of the income tax treaty with the USA, but everyone is different, I can’t cover all eventualities in a short article.

If you need, I can help with a few general questions about the system, but for more complicated matters, do talk to the IRS people – the feedback I’ve seen is that they are helpful.

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