1. vyleside
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    vyleside Member

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    Confusing legalities...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by vyleside, Jan 2, 2010.

    After much pondering, I've begun planning a novel about my time as a tax man working for the government. The characters I met and the general stupidity of management is ripe for lampooning and I'm very excited about the project.

    The only problem I have is that when taking the job I signed the official secrets act and am not allowed to say what I did, or anything specific.

    As this novel will be fiction BASED on true events, but without ever specifically mentioning any names, procedures or job sensitive information, does anybody know where I would legally stand?

    Some things would be mentioned, like a computer system that was due to come in every year but never did, but I don't think I would be mentioning anything that would give any useful insight into how government worked.

    If anybody is familiar with British law and knows, I would be very grateful.
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    It's complicated. I know that some former SAS soldiers got around it, by writing fictionalised accounts of their experiences under psuedonyms, but I have a feeling that the government might have closed that loophole now. I'd do some research on it, both looking into the act itself (you can find it at the OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information) website along with all other Acts of Parliament. You should also try to research the caselaw on the matter, as well as policy statements from the government, though that might be harder for a non-lawyer to do.

    Failing all else, you could ask an actual lawyer.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You will probably have to get the manuscriprt cleared by your employer's lawyers. You should get your own literary lawyer to represent you and negotiate with the government lawyers.
     
  4. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    If you're writing it as fiction, then no they have no legal means to sue you for talking about fictional things based on your real life experience. Look at Richard Marcinko, he was a Navy SEAL who wrote Rogue Warrior as an autobiography, and the Navy threw him in jail for it. Then he continued the series of books as fiction and they couldn't touch him.

    You can write a fictional story based on things you already know. But, to be on the safe side, I'd get a lawyer after you write the book and look for publication just in case.
     
  5. vyleside
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    vyleside Member

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    I was thinking of andy Mcnab who wrote a lot about SAS life and did wonder. After all, I'd be writing more based on the people and politics rather than discussing tax coding and all the rest. Especially as I'm sure everything has changed in the two years since I left.

    I'm friends with a property lawyer, but he might have an idea, so I'll have a word with him.
     
  6. fandango
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    fandango Member

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    The two British novels I can think of are Andy McNabb's Bravo Two Zero and Spycatcher - although both of these will be somewhat dated now with Spycatcher published in the late 80s, and Spycatcher was a biography. I did see in the shops a book proclaiming itself to be the unautharised history of Mi5, so it might be worth investigating this book.

    However, I can safely say that bad management and stupid corporate decisions aren't just the preserve of the civil service. So why set it so obviously where people can identify it? The closer you are to real life the more problems you are likely to have - regardless of whether you breach the official secrets act. For example, if one of your characters too closely resembles a colleague or manager, worst case scenario, could you end up with a libel case?
     
  7. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your project is a minefield of potential liability. Government, former "customers" and fellow workers can sue you for a variety of reasons such as violation of government rules, misrepresentation or invasion of privacy. Even a fictionalized accounting carries risk if anyone feels they are recognizable in the fiction. As has been advised above, you NEED a literary attorney and you can expect some reservation from potential publishers as their lawyers advise caution. Legal research also adds to the publisher's cost for producing such a book. I'm not advising against such a book, only that you protect yourself and understand the obstacles you'll have to overcome with a publisher.
     
  8. Samomo
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    Samomo Member

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    It sounds underhanded but you can always have, in the creds of your book, "all characters and events are purely fictional, and coincidential to any real life events/people" If they ask for where you got specifc information you could say you got it off the internet or something.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    this is not the place to be asking about such a legal 'minefield' as salty put it...

    you really do need to consult a literary attorney who has knowledge of 'official secrets act' laws/consequences, and not just fellow writers...
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If it's a matter of an official secrets act, you face the possibility of a criminal arrest. In contrast, a non-disclosure agreement would expose you to a lawsuit (a civil action). Either way, you will need an attorney to help ensure you don't land yourself in serious trouble.

    As Dean (NaCl) said, that doesn't mean you need to abandon the project completely, but you do need to get real legal assistance.
     
  11. vyleside
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    vyleside Member

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    Hmmm I'm wondering if I should change the setting to an accountancy firm and re-jig a few situations... or at least see how far I could get without the civil service reference.

    I have no idea how much a literary attorney would cost. Thanks for your thoughts, peeps.
     
  12. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    My guess would be that you could find an attorney that does stuff like business/copyright laws and talk to them. Most of them deal with intellectual property, which is what writing falls under, so they probably could help you, or at least point you in the direction of an attorney who can, in your area.

    You'll probably want to avoid any lawyers online advertising as publishing attorneys or literary attorneys. I would venture to say there are as many of those who are probably scams as literary agents.

    Most lawyers can be put on retainer for under $500, many are as low as $100. Then each visit is whatever they charge per hour, but for a fifteen minute meeting most will only charge you a quarter of their hourly charge. Your consultation shouldn't cost anything, or if it does it should be under $100 also.

    I'd say, if you change your office setting from what you worked in, to a private firm that does similar things to what you did, only they are private contractors, it probably wouldn't be something the government could get you on. Fictionalizing it is more than likely the best route to go.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    but you'll still have to be very careful, even if fictionalizing... and will still need to consult an attorney who specializes in such matters, if you want to avoid a law suit, or worse...
     

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