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  1. #1
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    Referencing within fiction without being sued

    Hi guys,

    I'm curious as to how much referencing can be made to things in the real world in a work of fiction. Obviously place names are not too much of an issue, after all the Pacific Ocean or the City of London is not really going to sue you if you make a reference to them in your work, or indeed if you story is set in those places.

    However, lots of YA fiction, which is the genre I'm interested in, and especially well, I guess you could call it chick-lit, but the teens version, make lots of references to famous celebrities, movie titles, etc... I think you get the point. I don't think it's too much of a celebrity craze, rather that the author is trying to show the younger readers of the story that he/she is with it, with the times, knows what's going on in the modern world and so the kids will think the work is actually relevant to their lives (which of course it isn't - only a work actually written by a kid would be relevant to kids, the rest of us "adults" can only guess what a child might want to read)

    So in a work of fiction, how much can you get away with, without being sued for libel or for copyright reasons. Are you allowed to quote actual songs, movie scenes, names of famous people or characters? Or are we better off trying to create another Middle Earth and just self-reference within the world of the story, thus completely ignoring the outside world?

    Sorry, this might be a random question but I'm working on a piece that incorporates the lyrics to a song, it is a translation of a foreign language song, but never the less, if the work was to actually get published, I would probably be sued for it.

    Just wondering how much referencing we're allowed to put into fictional works, if any.

    Patrick



  2. #2
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    You can reference celebrities as long as what you say about them is true and you can prove it. For example: Jane Fonda visited Viet-Nam in the early 1970's and wore the uniform of the North Vietnamese soldiers.

    You can name song titles because they cannot be copyrighted, but you cannot use actual song lyrics without permission. This also applies to movie titles, book titles, etc.

    Naturally, names of cities, roads, lakes, rivers, etc. are ok to use as long as you do not disparage them, again unless you can prove what you say is true.

    RW

  3. #3
    Senior Member Keith .'s Avatar
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    Patrick, be careful with the pop culture references. Especially in YA and MG. They can date a manuscript. It could take 2 years from sale to see your book on the shelf and by then your celebrity may be passť. This goes double with the kids and their short attention spans. Or worse, someone could have used Jamie Lynn Spears in a MG book when she was so big on Disney. By the time their book released she was knocked up at what, 15?
    ________________________________________________

    People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.
    - Bob Dylan

  4. #4
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    So in a work of fiction, how much can you get away with, without being sued for libel or for copyright reasons. Are you allowed to quote actual songs, movie scenes, names of famous people or characters? Or are we better off trying to create another Middle Earth and just self-reference within the world of the story, thus completely ignoring the outside world?
    Publishers have legal departments to catch that sort of thing, but it's best if the issue doesn't come up at all. Then you'll have a better chance at getting published because you'll appear more professional. So do your research before send off a MSS with quoted material in it. Posting on a writer's board such as this isn't research.
    Stan

  5. #5
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    Keith is absolutely right about "dating" your ms. I see it all the time. Um...I've actually done it myself.

    Actually I was able to use a line of lyrics (two songs, only a line of each--and not even a full line) without requiring permission. That was up to the publisher's legal department, I imagine. I was prepared to take it out of necessary. Be cautious, Patrick.

  6. #6
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    Beware copyright infringement. Don't name a character Frodo. Don't quote other people, books, or songs. If you must reference a real person or product, don't defame them or make them look bad. For example, I once wrote a story where a character finds out that a certain drug cases delusions or insanity. Bad idea, but I didn't submit it that way. I ended up making up a fictitious drug.

  7. #7
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    I find if a reference to something is in doubt, generalize it.

    I have a moment in my book where I was going to reference a rap song on a ipod, and I just decided to generalize both to be certain, and now it was a unnamed rap song on a mp3 player.

    unless there is a distinctly unavoidable neccessity to name something directly, you really can just generalize it, and not have to worry. generalizations can be harder to date, also.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Herman Munster's Avatar
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    Patrick, Patrick, Patrick, do what you want.

    If you get sued when you have no money, it will make you rich, the notoriety will at least.

    You can't be sued for liebl or slander if what you say is true.
    I reference McDonalds, MacDonalds, MuckDonalds as it pleases me. Will they sue me? NEVER. As any GOOD execuitive will tell, even bad publicity is good publicitiy. The Exxon Mobil consortium is more well known today amongst ordinary people since the Valdez disaster. BP has to wait, but within another coupla years, that oil slick will be cartooned and they will be pleased to have been involved.

    I talk about the Chairman, in my works. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top of the US Military. I don't use a name, I have never seen his name, picture or stature. My version, in my mind at least, is very short, 70-75 yo, grey haired, an evil, humourus eye and smokes ridiculously large Cubans, very illegal. Will the US Military sue me, no chance. I reference the current US President, not by name, but as the Basketball player. I do mention hsi wifes name, Michelle, as she appears a coupla times. I mention the girls but would never name them. Their parents chose public life, the children have not, when they do choose it, I make use their names if they fit my current scenario.

    I am irreverent with everything. But if I use a song lyrics, which I do occationally, I try to credit the artist who made it most famous to me. That may not be the creator of the song, but... tuff... so sue me.
    I could use the publicity and notoriety!
    <HUGE CHEESEY GRIN>

  9. #9
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    Re: Referencing within fiction without being sued

    I think Patrick collected all his toys and went home in a huff. Unless he's one of those 'no response equals no' kind of posters.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Herman Munster's Avatar
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    What's in a NMAE?

    Is that Patrick or Jane?
    Could be an identity crisis, can we get he/she/it back OUT of the cupboard or wardrobe maybe?

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