View Full Version : Legal Issue
April 29th, 2004, 09:29 PM
I'd like to use real people as inspiration for characters.
In one case, the evolution of the nickname from the real name is the most critical element. Nothing else about that person needs to be accurate.
In another case, the name can be anything, but the personality is critical. I would take that person's existing ideas/philsophies and extend them into a worst case scenario.
Neither person would be flattered. Can I slap a disclaimer on it and call it good, or am I treading on dangerous legal territory?
April 29th, 2004, 10:17 PM
I believe the legalize is - plausible deniability.
In other words, could it be somebody else? As long as the answer is yes you're probably fine. Things like personality or a nickname sound safe enough. Using catch-phrases that are well known as being from the actual human subject (We'll call them a template) or something that makes it impossible to pretend to be an invention is more dangerous ground.
Of course there are different levels of danger depending on the template in question:
No danger - a personal friend who is flattered by the reference, even if shown in a negative light.
Marginal danger - a public figure who..... seems.... good natured. I... think he could take a joke (a certain President comes to mind)
LETHAL - Barbara Striesand
April 30th, 2004, 12:33 AM
LETHAL - Barbara Striesand
I think Babs could take a joke. :D
But seriously, I've used many of my friends, combinations of their personalities, twists on their names, etc to come up with characters. I usually end up killing one or two along the way and actually, with my test reader friends, have ASKED me to kill them in a story. It's kinda funny.
As long as you don't write the person so realistically, then attempt to defame, humiliate, or embarrass, you're fine. This is similar to places which was mentioned earlier. If you're writing a specific person and using their name, their phrases, their walk, their slang, their hang-outs, etc, then you're writing this person and are stepping out of fiction and into non-ficiton with the character. Think about why this person needs to be there. Why do you really need this specific person and what is your intent.
As Iron Chef put it, plausable deniability. If you know this person and they know you, be careful how you portrait that person and you'll be fine.
Side note, one of my good friends keeps popping up into my stories and in one he's a seven year old kid making pizza (his favorite food). Those who've read it and know him say 'Yeah, that's Mike'. Mike read it, laughed and said 'Hey, this is what you shoulda wrote instead of Pat and the Apple Pie'. Pat and the Apple Pie was a story based on another friend (female) and also converted to a seven year old. Both stories were done in good light and well accepted and besides the name, the characters are NOTHING like my friends. Well...maybe Mike was like that as a kid, but Pat wasn't...hehehe
April 30th, 2004, 11:00 AM
In the case of the nickname, you're fine. Since the character would be nothing like the person whose nickname you're borrowing, it's simply a name with amusing anecdote -- research material.
In the case of the personality, the amount of problem would be how closely you stick to the real person and the likelihood of that person to read the work and sue you. Which probably depends on the philosophy the person expouses. If the person is a Marxist, for instance, well, there are plenty of Marxists out there from which you could have also drawn inspiration. If the person has his own weird, original theory of the universe, you'd be on shakier ground. If the person has published any of his views and you would be having your character say things directly from those publications, you might have a problem.
But defamation in a fictional work is very hard to prove in court, in part because you are allowed by law to satirize anyone, including public figures, and it is not considered defamation. A person suing you would have to prove that not only did you deliberately portray him in the work, but that you did so in order to harm and defame him, and that the publication of the work has indeed caused him distress and harm. And that's usually tough to prove, which is why rarely have roman a clef novels been the subject of lawsuits.
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