1. zedus
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    zedus New Member

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    Fictional Depictions of Real People

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by zedus, Oct 12, 2010.

    Okay, so I am writing this fictional baseball book, and I want to use a living baseball legend (who is retired) as a secondary character. He wouldn't have a whole ton of appearances or dialogue, but he would be important to the plot. Are there any rules against this? Or can I just go ahead and write in a fictional version of him? I wouldn't be shedding any intentional negative light on him. Would I have to ask for some sort of permission?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    when you say 'fictional version' do you mean using his real name but having him do things he never did in real life?... or just modeling a totally fictional character on him, giving the character a different name?

    for the first, it would be wise to ask his permission, since he's still around, even though you don't have to legally, since he's a public figure...

    for the second, you don't really have to, since his name won't be used... but if he can be recognized by your description of the character and his life/career, then again, it would be wise and courteous to ask first...

    real well-known people are often added to works of fiction, so there's plenty of precedent... caleb carr's historical novels are a prime example... he even had teddy roosevelt helping his reporter-detective character solve a crime... and in 'field of dreams' white sox legend shoeless joe jackson's ghost befriends kevin costner's character...

    so, have fun with this and keep us posted...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  3. zedus
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    zedus New Member

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    Thanks a lot maia. I realized after I posted this that I should have been clearer about what I meant. What I intend to do is use the real name of the person and depict him as close to how he truly is, as I possibly can. The fictional aspect would be writing dialogue that he has never said and have him do things that he has not done- such as buying a baseball franchise and being a mentor to my protagonist.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    As maia said, get his permission, if possible.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with maia generally, with one caveat: you can't assume the guy is a "public figure" for purposes of defamation law just because he is a legendary baseball player.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Of course you can. Defamation is defamation, and the tolerance afforded to public figures is a sliding scale dependent on just how public a persona they are.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Once you cross the threshold and establish that someone is a "public figure," they have to prove actual "malice" before they can recover for defamation. So that's an important line, and I don't know you can assume that a retired sports legend is on the side of it that requires that higher standard. I'd ask how well known he is, how long ago he played, how much he's still part of the public consciousness, etc.

    Of course, it all comes down to what a judge or jury would say about it, but at least with someone like the President you can rest assured that they're a public figure and the higher standard of proof applies.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto cog's 'of course you can!'...

    what else could a 'baseball legend' be considered, for pete's sake?... fyi, 'legend' = lasting fame, not the fleeting kind that often fades after the idol retires...
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Zedus:

    Determination of a public figure is a factual determination. Keep that in mind if you proceed along those lines, and don't do so relying on the advice you receive from internet forums. There have been cases where celebrity figures you might assume are "certainly" public figures have been found not to be. If you are concerned that the content of your work could be defamatory, you may want to discuss this with an attorney. Even if it isn't, you also want to consider Right of Publicity claims.

    It is unlikely, in my view, that these are going to be major problems if the character is a secondary character in a minor role, but these sorts of claims are determined largely by state law and it might not be a bad idea to consult with an attorney in your state.

    Good luck.
     
  10. zedus
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    zedus New Member

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    Thank you very much guys and gals.
     

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