1. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Celebrity Names

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jhunter, Jun 12, 2013.

    If I were to use the names of celebrities in a work of fiction, but not have the characters act or look like they do in real life, would I run into legal problems?
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Do you mean just use the name, but have them as an entirely different person? If that's the case, then a name is just a name. Several people have the same forename and surname. Although maybe you wouldn't want to use more uncommon names. :)
     
  3. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why would you want to call your lead ballerina Bruce Willis?
     
  4. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sooo stealing that!!!!
     
  5. raven6625
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    raven6625 Member

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    Yes, libelous ones. There is some leeway for disclaimers (Re. Southpark) but if you write about someone called Tony Blair having an affair with a fictional Princess Diana I hope you have good lawyers.

    ^^ Why WOULDN'T you want to call your lead ballerina Bruce Willis??!!

    If you just liked the name or wanted to use it as some sort of plot mechanic (mistaken identity is great to work with), you could just point out that Tony hates always being mistaken for the Ex-PM and has to avoid death threats on twitter...

    What do you want to use it for?
     
  6. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Satire, I would be using the names to invoke the image of those people--entirely on purpose.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The First Amendment protects satire in the U.S. Still, if you get sued it can cost you a lot of money even if you win.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you're asking the wrong people, should be consulting a literary attorney with a completed ms, instead...
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Or you could look for existing examples and see how it was done and if there were resulting legal actions.

    I'm a little confused however, if you use a name, say Paris Hilton, but the character didn't act or look like she does in real life, how are you going to then have the name evoke her image? That seems contradictory.

    I'm pretty sure a name like Brad Pitt or even Paris Hilton cannot be copyright protected, not considering the rest of what you are considering doing.
     
  10. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    I think the real question is: why use a celebrity's name at all? It seems like a lot of trouble for no reason. If you're not using a person's actual traits, just their name, then you'll just confuse the reader.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Names don't get copyright protection, as a general rule. They can have trademark protection. Invoking a celebrity (or even non-celebrity in some jurisdictions) can also raise right of publicity concerns. In California, for example, use of a celebrity's name can be enough for the celebrity to have a Right of Publicity claim, but there are additional elements that have to be present, such as a link between the use and some commercial purpose. In other jurisdictions, you only have to show use without consent.

    But as I said above, the First Amendment protects satire, and that trumps any common law or statutory Right of Publicity claim. Just because you call something satire, however, doesn't mean it is. That would be a question decided in court if it went that far.
     
  12. nevari
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    nevari Member

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    I think if you use it for a character that knows full well he/she has a celebrity name and constantly gets the jokes and "Hey did you know you're named after so and so" I see no reason not to. It is kind of something the character is going through and can be used in varied ways.
     
  13. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I occasionally will use the first name of a celebrity for a character in one of my characters since so many celebrities have very common ordinary names.
     
  14. Somnus
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    Somnus Member

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    If the person in question has an extremely recognizable name (this is likely a bad example, but 'Sarah Rose Hitler', even if she's a ballerina, will likely conjure a face as soon as you read it). Of course, Hitler wasn't really the ballerina type, but just with his very recognizable name (Adolf might have scored the same effect, but not with the same magnitude) you've drawn an association between Sara Rose Hitler and Adolf Hitler.
    Of course, as has been said before, there are two important points to remember: first of all, we are not a team of legal experts (well, I'm not, at least) and our advice/thoughts should not be taken as rock-solid truth. Secondly, you might proclaim it satire, but before the eyes of the law, it might not fit the definition of satire - and that opens you up to a hefty legal battle.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's not even just a case of being found wrong under the law. Even if you're found to be right, and your use is protected, if the case goes all the way through trial in order to reach that determination you're looking at six figures in legal fees.
     

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