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  1. #1

    writing "real people" (legal-type discus


    I'm wondering if there is anyone who frequents these boards who may have insight on libel and other legal threats that may be made when fictional characters (or events) resemble real people (or events).

    Just for an example...Does the JonBenet Ramsey family have control over all stories about child beauty queens that are murdered? What about cases that may be locally well-known but never made the national radar? Events happen every day that may spark something within a writer who then goes on to tell stories with an entirely original set of characters and events--but the thesis statement of the acutal and fictional stories are the same.

    It my understanding that Libel would only apply if the work did portray an actual person (inaccurately and unfavorably) but I was wondering what other problems may arise.

    Also, at what point should this be mentioned to a potention agent or editor?


  2. #2
    Lisa J. Werth

    Re: writing "real people" (legal-type di

    In this country, anybody could get sued for saying/writing almost anything sooner or later.

    I studied libel, defamation, and first ammendment a few years ago, and then knew I needed to fictionalize my novel.

    Great care should always be taken in sensitive situations.

    These are some defenses:
    1. The truth. Can't sue the facts. So you could stick to them.
    2. Clearly establishing that you are expressing just one person's opinion.
    3. When the sharing of a private matter is in the best interest of the public.

    Now, there are not many child beauty queen murder cases. And her parents were not public figures before this happened. So, people will compare at times.

    Some things that I considered with my manuscript:
    Moving it to another part of the country.
    Changing physical descriptions of people.
    Setting it in a slightly different time.

    In some libel cases involving fictional stories, a victim had to prove or admit the story is about them. Then present evidence that they were defamed or their privacy was invaded. SOmthing individuals will end up shying away from.

    That little retraction in novels can be handy at times.

  3. #3

    Re: writing "real people" (legal-type di

    Lisa's points are pretty much on point. It's easy to sue for libel, slander, and/or defamation but it's hard to win. In a nutshell, the plaintiffs would have to prove the story was about them, that it was inaccurate, that the author knew the story was inaccurate, and that the plaintiffs suffered measurable harm.


  4. #4
    Ron Potvin

    Re: writing "real people" (legal-type di

    This is an extension of this discussion, but in my novel, I use some real places, including a private non-profit library. I don't think that I misrepresent them or treat them badly, but that's in the eye of the beholder I guess. Should I change the name of the place, even though the description of the bookshelves, paintings on the walls, etc. are true?

  5. #5
    Lisa J. Werth

    Re: writing "real people" (legal-type di

    You should be fine with a real place. As long as you don't misrepresnt them, their board proabably will leave you alone. Real places are in fiction all the time.

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