1. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    Can I shapel online profiles for a novel, using some info found on the internet

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Agatha Christie, Feb 17, 2012.

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  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can only say that if I ever found something so closely resembling my online profile that it had obviously been lifted from there appearing in a novel I would (attempt to) sue the pants off you. Dating site info is usually confidential (or the agency my sister used assured her it was). I suppose an open dating site is slightly different, but unless it's a very informal setup, open to all and sundry, I don't think it's a good idea. Surely you can make up your own stuff? It's not 'fictitious' if you are stealing information from real sites.
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that it is perfectly ok to use real life as an inspiration, even real people, let alone internet profiles. But I would always mix and match, so If I am using the profiles, I'd mix up (or change) the names, physical description, job etc. In that sense, it's only an inspiration, not stealing.
     
  4. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    That would make it not really a work of fiction. And it's not very creative. And someone could try to sue you. Why don't you make up your own stuff?
     
  5. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Actually I can't see a problem as long as anything and everything that could link back to an actual person or dating agency is removed. Even if someone recognised their own words they probably couldn't sue you, since there would be no damage done to them or their reputations. Sorry Madhoca. To sue successfully you have to show some sort of injury. Having said that my understanding of such sites is that the profiles are often fairly generic - "Hi I'm Greg and I'm a cancer and I like long walks on lonely beaches etc etc."

    The real criticism would be as Joanna mentioned it's not very creative. If you're making up characters, even profiles of characters, then why not try to give them some originality - "Hi I'm Greg and I was never really born but just dropped off by aliens, and I like doing disgusting things to road cones while waiting for the mothership to return etc." Have some fun with it.

    Cheers, Greg.

    PS: As chickenfreak says below, there might be copyright issues to consider.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But people also have copyright over their own words--even a few sentences in someone's online dating profile are, technically, copyrighted by that person. I don't know if the copyright holder could actually sue for damages, but could they sue to stop the distribution of the book?

    Even if they'd be unlikely to win, I suspect that a publisher would not want to deal with the baggage of someone else's copyright, no matter how small or innocuous the excerpt.

    ChickenFreak
     
  7. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Chickenfreak,

    Actually that's a good question. I hadn't considered it. But the real question becomes, are these written words published? If they are then yes, technically it's a copyright matter. But the alternative view is that it's not really published. That it's a social networking site rather like this forum. And there, different rules apply. A lot of what is written on social networking sites is classed as a sort of free speech. That's why a lot of people can say horrid things about others and are safe from being sued for libel. If it's free speech then it's no different to someone talking to a friend in the street and saying those same things.

    Check the technical bits of the website you're looking at, and maybe it'll give you a clue as to whether stuff written by clients is considered published or not. Also read the confidentiality clauses.

    But as others have said, don't lift it directly anyway. Use what's written for inspiration, and try to be creative instead.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  8. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why not just... you know make it up? I mean you are a writer, use your imagination. Nothing wrong with using them as examples to get a look at how a profile is usually done and then make your own.
     
  9. Rapscallion
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    Rapscallion Active Member

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    If you are just looking for types, and perhaps stereotypes of characters and are going to change names, places and actual content as you say, then I suppose you could just deem it research. It won't harm anyone, as it would be impossible for the fictitious character to be linked to any real one in any way. You can't be sued for not harming anyone.
    What you would be doing is learning how to realistically define fictitious characters by studying real ones. That's something that a lot of writers do.
    It's a good idea.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't have to be published for copyright to apply, though--it just has to be fixed in a tangible medium. If you write a poem and lock it in your desk, or if you record a speech on a tape and lock that in your desk, copyright still applies. I believe that a piece of writing that's recorded online, even if it is just a dating profile, counts as a tangible medium for copyright purposes. The fact that it may _also_ count as speech doesn't eliminate the copyright. (And speech doesn't eliminate one's liability for libel or slander; it's probably usually not worth suing a private individual for what they say on the street, or Twitter, or their blog, or Facebook, but it's not impossible either.)

    I realize that we're both agreeing on what the OP should do. :) But I still wanted to express _all_ the reasons why copying the online profile, or other online content, would be a bad idea.

    ChickenFreak
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just as long as the writing was not a flimsily-disguised version of my actual words. The OP used the phrase 'lifted from real online profiles'. If it was too similar, I would certainly publicise the fact if the matter was drawn to my attention and I could prove that I wrote them first and where, and I'd sue if the details were personal (which would probably be unlikely).
    It's different just getting inspiration from this kind of thing. Go ahead--lots of writers do that with no problems.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep; this is another issue. Even if there's no lawsuit, publicity about unethical practices like grabbing someone else's writing could kill the book and the author's career. I had a faint memory of a romance author accused of plagiarism, and a quick Google search on those key words (romance author plagiarism) promptly popped up her name.
     
  13. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Chickenfreak,

    In most western countries no. What you say on the streets to your friends is completely free from the possibility of being charged with slander or libel. Free speech is just that, with some exceptions. Its only when it gets published in some way that slander and libel and copyright become possibilities. Now simply putting something down in writing is not sufficient in and of itself to be termed publishing. What I write on my note pads at home is not published. So the question is, is the stuff put on to a social networking site such as the conversation we are having here, published? Or is it simply an extension of free speech?

    I don't actually know the answer. It will depend on the country in which it happens, and the disclaimers and descriptors of the site itself. Perhaps some lawyers here could better answer this question than me.

    For the sake of safety I would advise erring on the side of caution, and assume that if its written on a dating website, that it is published, and therefore not use it.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But slander is _defined_ as the "spoken or transitory" form of defamation. That certainly suggests that spoken or transitory definition can be cause for legal action, because people are sued for slander.

    Now, the key to your argument may be the "to your friends" part - I'd guess that if your statement doesn't go beyond a limited circle of your own acquaintances, it would be difficult to sue based on it. But if you stand up in the middle of a shopping mall and shout false and malicious allegations about someone through a megaphone, I'm confident that you can be sued for slander. :)

    (On the other hand, if you just shout insults or opinions rather than allegations of fact, I don't think that slander applies. So, "Joe embezzles from his company!" would be slander, while "Joe is ugly and has a stupid haircut!" would not.)

    (Edited to add: I should add that, again at least in the US, public figures have far stricter grounds for suing for either libel or slander. Something that might be actionable if you said it about a little-known person might be not at all actionable if you said it about a public figure. This is based on preserving free speech, so maybe that's what you're referring to?

    And I see that the term "published" is used in defamation law, but in that context it just means that the statement was communicated to at least one person other than the person that it's about; it's not the usual meaning of "published".)

    Copyright doesn't require publication, at least, as I understand it, not for any country that's signatory to the Berne Convention. I know that it doesn't in the US; that's clearly stated on the US copyright office site. It only requires that the item be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression". As soon as you write a paragraph, draw a doodle, sing a song into a tape recorder, anything like that, that work of authorship is copyrighted.

    Also, at least in the US free speech doesn't just apply to transitory spoken speech - it also applies to writing, recording, art, essentially any form of expression. All of those forms of expression have protection as free speech, but free speech protection has limitations, and one of those limitations is the existence of libel and slander laws. (And I'm not saying that I necessarily approve of those limitations, but they do exist in law.)
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you use what you see there only as examples of style and you paraphrase the actual wording, mix up the personality profiles so no can recognize theirs, then there's no legal problem... just don't use any of the content verbatim... doing so would be illegal and could land you in a very large tub of hot water...

    but, as others have noted, that's doing things the lazy way and not a sign of one who wants to be a serious writer...
     
  16. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Chickenfreak,

    I think I'm getting out of my depth here. But I still don't think you can be sued for libel or slander or copyright for simply publically speaking. So grab a soap box, stand out on it in the park and read passages from JK's latest work. I think you're safe. (Note I said think). When it becomes different is when you maybe rent a hall and say the same things to a crown of paying people.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know about New Zealand, but this definitely isn't true in the United States. The copyright holder holds legal rights to public performance, including things like soapbox reading, even if the speaker isn't making any money. (Money is relevant, but a lack of profit doesn't completely erase the violation.) And saying false negative things about a person on that soapbox, or even in a coffee shop loud enough for the next table to hear you, can be actionable as slander. It may sound like an unreasonable restriction of freedom, but it is that way - the fact that you're merely speaking, rather than publishing, doesn't protect you from what you say.
     
  18. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Chickenfreak,

    As I say I'm out of my depth, but I found this exemption for public performances from a Cornell site:

    ***

    Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

    ***

    (4)performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work otherwise than in a transmission to the public, without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and without payment of any fee or other compensation for the performance to any of its performers, promoters, or organizers, if—
    (A)there is no direct or indirect admission charge; or

    So if you aren't making money from it and aren't charging admission then I think (Note: think) you're ok on your soap box. Buskers might still be in trouble.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/110

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm. That's interesting. Yes, I think the busker is out of luck, under "direct or indirect commercial advantage" and "payment of any fee or other compensation... to any of its performers." But it does sound like a soap box performer who's, say, reciting from a book or singing a song (though the song has to be "nondramatic" so I'd guess that he can't sing show tunes?), would be safe from copyright issues as along as he's not getting money or any other advantage that can be turned into money or has monetary value. He wouldn't be safe from possible slander charges if he said something slanderous, but the copyright issue sounds like it's clean.

    ChickenFreak
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    since the op isn't a busker, let's get back to her question and stop digressing, ok?
     

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