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joe_faint
March 3rd, 2006, 03:06 PM
Hopefully I'm posting this in the right spot. I'm trying to find out some general info to make sure I'm following the law (so I won't be sued down the line) in constructing my book.

1) I'm writing a fiction about California. Is it okay to use the (actual real life)names of popular restaurants/bars/clubs/schools/clothing stores etc.? For example, can I write that a certain character was "appaled by the shirt selection at Express For Men"? Or "They went to school at UCLA" or "Disneyland was for those people who couldn't find anything better to do in L.A."?

2) When designing characters based on real life people, can I make the character exactly like the real person (in personality, speech mannerisms, general appearance) and only change their name?

3) Are there any sites/databases you know of that show general legal rules for a writer to follow?

I'll appreciate any advice on this.

Shane
March 3rd, 2006, 04:50 PM
I'm not positive on any of this, but here's more or less what I'm somewhat sure of:

Schools you can probably get away with without issue. The rest of it, I'm not entirely sure about, but I think you'll be okay. I mean, they can make documentaries about how much McDonalds is bad for you, or how Nike is evil, and I doubt they got permission for that. Documentaries are probably a little different, but I've read quite a few books that have used real businesses or locations, such as Home Depot or Motorola. I doubt they went out and got permission for that, but honestly I don't know. I mean, on TV they do blur out names on T-Shirts and Baseball Caps, right?

As for taking a person you know and implimenting them in your book completely, but changing their name, that's another one of those areas where I think you'll be okay. There is such a thing as likeness rights, but I think that generally falls into the category of animation. That said, if you're writing about one of your friends, you could just ask them, and if you're paranoid about it, you could even get them to put it in writing. That said, as long as you're not writing extremely detailed, personal information about your friend so that anyone who knows this person would recognize them instantly, there's nothing to stop you from saying "Oh? You think that character seems a lot like you? Weird. Wasn't intentional, though."

Malik
March 3rd, 2006, 05:33 PM
That said, as long as you're not writing extremely detailed, personal information about your friend so that anyone who knows this person would recognize them instantly, there's nothing to stop you from saying "Oh? You think that character seems a lot like you? Weird. Wasn't intentional, though."

You can always pull the classic Anne Lamott; if you have based a character on someone that presents them in a bad light and are worried about it, simply give him a very small penis. Make it like a robin's egg in a nest, she suggests. They will never -- NEVER -- admit that it's based on them. EDIT: Similarly, if it's a woman, you can simply make her a matressback, the whole town's Saturday Night Special. Or give them herpes.

Expendable
March 3rd, 2006, 10:21 PM
Hopefully I'm posting this in the right spot. I'm trying to find out some general info to make sure I'm following the law (so I won't be sued down the line) in constructing my book.
A publisher (or the editor) usually runs questionable stuff pass a lawyer.


1) I'm writing a fiction about California. Is it okay to use the (actual real life)names of popular restaurants/bars/clubs/schools/clothing stores etc.? For example, can I write that a certain character was "appaled by the shirt selection at Express For Men"? Or "They went to school at UCLA" or "Disneyland was for those people who couldn't find anything better to do in L.A."? Because you're writing about a real place, there's two things to keep in mind. People expect to see landmarks, so using them makes your book more "real". But if you're going to do or say something that business won't like, they will sue. So change the name and a few details. It's not Disneyland, it's WallyWorld!


2) When designing characters based on real life people, can I make the character exactly like the real person (in personality, speech mannerisms, general appearance) and only change their name? This can backfire very fast and nasty. If you use their real name, even if you state only true details, if it adversely affects them, you will get sued - assuming they don't show up at your door with a gun or a baseball bat instead. Change a few details, definitely change the name. Don't forget to research the name! Some of the best characters have traits taken from two or more people.

Don't use real people in your stories unless they're safely dead or you're writing an biography.


3) Are there any sites/databases you know of that show general legal rules for a writer to follow?
Rough guide to libel (British) (http://www.writewords.org.uk/articles/tips7.asp)
Are you guilty - know your slander and libel laws (http://thedabblingmum.com/writing/general/slanderlibel.htm)
American Civil Liberties Union (http://www.aclu.org/)

choppy
March 4th, 2006, 02:06 PM
I don't have a lot to add - just let common sense be your guide. If you're worried about being sued, remember that this is quite an involved process that requires considerable effort and often financial investment. People and corporations generally need a reason to sue you. If you don't give them any reason, you'll be pretty safe.

As long as you maintain that what you've written is fiction, you'll be pretty safe.

Slander is the big exception. If you make false claims about a particular corporation or individual - such as suggesting that McDonalds has switched to Soilent Green as the main ingredient in its Big Mac - AND the book becomes a best-seller - you might find yourself in hot water.

Something else to consider is people's feelings. Some people love hearing that they are characters in novels. Others could be upset, especially if you disclose personal information about them. Most people don't sue over hurt feelings, but you may risk losing some friends.

KatG
March 5th, 2006, 11:17 AM
1) I'm writing a fiction about California. Is it okay to use the (actual real life)names of popular restaurants/bars/clubs/schools/clothing stores etc.? For example, can I write that a certain character was "appaled by the shirt selection at Express For Men"? Or "They went to school at UCLA" or "Disneyland was for those people who couldn't find anything better to do in L.A."?

The issue is trademark law, which is that many products and companies are trademark protected and thus, you can't use their trademark in your product -- the novel. But it depends on the context. If you want to say someone's from a university, that's fine. If you want to say that your character drinks a Coca Cola, that's fine. You can probably use the quote about Disneyland and Express for Men, because these are fictional characters' assessments of places or stores.

But if a trademark product or company features prominently in the plot of a story, then you have a problem, because you are not just making a pop cultural reference, but using their trademark. Thus, a mystery writer I worked with couldn't use Barbie doll collectors in her story, she had to invent a Barbie-like doll that was collected. And Carl Hiassen didn't use DisneyWorld for his thriller, Native Toungue, but instead an imaginary, Diseny-like theme park that was involved in most of the plot. Of course, it was clearly based on DisneyWorld, but because it was a satirical portrait, it's protected under use of satire laws in trademark and copyright law.

So casual references, no problem. Major use in the plot, it's usually best to change it to an imaginary, similar company or product.


2) When designing characters based on real life people, can I make the character exactly like the real person (in personality, speech mannerisms, general appearance) and only change their name?

Famous people, or your friends? If it's famous people, and it's satirical, you're fairly protected. If not satirical, there's a faint chance you'll get in trouble. However, if the famous person is dead and a part of history, they're usually pretty fair game. If it's your friends, and they aren't happy with how you portrayed them, you could be in trouble. If they're pleased, it's not a problem. If it's someone who's not famous and not a friend, best don't do it or at least, do more disguising of the character.


3) Are there any sites/databases you know of that show general legal rules for a writer to follow?

In the U.S., the National Writers Union and the Authors Guild are two national groups that are very into legal issues and author rights advocacy. They might have some useful info. In other countries, you'd need similar advice, since the laws are different in each country.