Editorial changes can often become a major bone of contention between publishers and authors. Publishers typically want the unfettered right to make changes in an author's work, particularly if the author has never been published before. Authors, on the other hand, usually feel that their works should be published as written, without being altered by an editor or a publisher.

While United States laws generally do not recognize moral rights as the basis for a lawsuit, there are other areas of law that may limit a publisher's ability to make substantial unauthorized changes in an author's work.

Copyright Law

One of the exclusive rights of the owner of the copyright in a work is the right to prepare modified versions, or "derivative works," based on that work. In some cases, authors have successfully argued that the editorial changes made by publishers have been so extensive that they resulted in a derivative work. Since the author did not grant the publisher a license to prepare derivative works, the edited work constituted an infringement of the author's copyright.

Trademark Law

Federal trademark law prohibits the use of a person's name in connection with goods in a way that falsely implies that the person is affiliated with or has approved of those goods. Some courts have held that the publication of an edited version of a book violates trademark law by implying that the person named as the author of the edited book actually wrote or approved the book as edited.


An author could argue that the publication of a book that is edited without the author's permission is defamatory to the author's reputation. However, in order for such a claim to succeed, an author would probably have to establish that the edited version of the book is of lesser merit or quality than the author's original version.

The Solution - Contracts

Publishers who want the unlimited right to make editorial changes should obtain that right in the publishing agreement, and should also obtain the right to use the author's name in connection with any edited version of the work. Conversely, authors who want to control the editing of their work should insist that the contract require the author's approval before any changes can be made.