1. Earth
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    Earth New Member

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    im writing a novel based around my life and have a few legality questions..

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Earth, Jul 28, 2010.

    ive been toying with the idea of writing a novel based around some of the ****ed up things ive gotten myself caught up in (imagine of mice and men mixed with fight club) and i have a few questions...

    is there any way i can legally use peoples actual names (not full names of course) and get away with it? or am i going to have to swap names/locations out to keep people from trying to sue me?


    i have a lot of material to work with and im fairly certain people are going to eat it up but it involves alot of illegal activities and some very traumatic events for some people and i dont want a lawsuit on my hands because im telling a story about how so and so "got hooked on speed and now she's a dope whore" or how whats her face "gets repeatably raped because of her idiotic taste in men"
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Do not use real names. If you use real names for people who are doing illegal things, then you are publicly accusing them of crimes. If they have not been convicted of those crimes, then they will have every right to sue you for libel and you will find yourself in a world of feces.

    So change the names, addresses, places of employment, and anything else that can specify a real live person. You can make up fictional people and have them do the things the real people in your life did, but you can't use the real people as characters in your book.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You may well even have to fictionalize a good bit of what takes place even though names have been changed unless you can get those involved to write off given permission.
     
  4. dogboon
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    dogboon Member

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    One thing you could do is check out authors that wrote true life books that are of the same nature as your stories. Research their interviews and anything they say about the writing process for the piece. They will usually discuss this issue.

    A couple of good authors to start with are Geoff Thompson who's story is 'Watch my back' and Irvine Welsh author of 'Trainspotting' and 'Acid House' et al. Geoff Thompson will even answer your questions directly, in fact.

    Good luck, tell us what you find out.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Is this an autobiography, or a fiction novel that uses real events that happened (not marketed as autobiographical/memoir).

    If it's the latter, using a pen name is a wise choice. This way the people involved won't see it in Barnes & Noble and freak out.
     
  6. Earth
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    Earth New Member

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    i really dont know... i have enough material to work with already without embellishing with fiction it to write a pretty interesting head trippy kind of novel that will get people thinking and thats all i really want

    however if i were to use the truth as the framework and build around as i saw fit i could have a transgressive fiction masterpiece on my hands but im trying to keep as much street cred as i can.

    i want people to think to themselves "holy ****.. stuff like this really happens out there what the hell is wrong with our society" and i think thats easier to do when they know outright that its all true and documented.


    i was reading somewhere that legally unless i lie about what people do and slander their good name (and they would have to prove they HAD a good name before i came along) they cant do anything because im just recounting the facts. i dont know how it applies to illegal activities though... if i say so and so used to be a big drug dealer can they really do anything if its all in the past?
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Googling, I find a number of sites suggesting that private people - as opposed to public figures like politicians and celebrities - have a right to privacy, even when the facts revealed about them are not false. So while these people might not be able to sue you for defamation, they still might be able to sue you for violating their privacy.

    ChickenFreak
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Earth - what I meant was, just because 100% of the plot is from real-life events, no one will know (except the people who recognize it because they were invovled.)

    For all the publishers and readers, they could just think that you made it up. How will they know that the events were real?

    As for the characters, you'd of course need to change their names/addresses/etc. Once you do this, you aren't writing about them in a way that they could prove.

    And if you don't market the novel as a memoir or autobiography, everyone will think you made it up.

    I don't see how anyone could sue you, as long as you don't make them identifiable.

    If you want to avoid them being upset if they read it, use a pen name so no one will know it's you.

    --------------

    EDITED - Here is something I just remembered from my Writing for Mass Communication class last semester, when they talked about media law. In order for a private citizen (non-public figure or celebrity) to prove libel or slander, ALL of the following must be present:

    1. The facts must be untrue or told with a negligent disregard for the truth
    2. The people in question must be identifiable (use fake names/addresses/work places/etc and you are safe)
    3. The statements must cause personal harm.
    4. (If it's a public figure, there's more leeway for the writer and the plaintiff also has to prove that there was an INTENT to HARM -- not just criticism, satire, etc)

    3 is kind of subjective, but follow 2 in this case and you're home free.
     
  9. Earth
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    Earth New Member

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    alright thanks guys you have been incredibly helpful i think im just going to use little pun names that only me the people involved would get, sort of my own sick little inside joke.

    funny side note: i always use a pen name the problem is EVERYBODY knows me by that name but none of them (except two close friends) know my real name. people call my house looking for earth lol its always tripped my mom and dad out. ive gone out with women who have called me earthykins or earthy the entire time no one knows who i really am
     
  10. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    *Cracks knuckles*

    Defamation is one of the elements of tort that I actually remember :D

    (NOTE: This applies under British law, and I can't guarantee it for any other jurisdiction)

    The facts do have to be untrue, because if they can be proved true then that is justification, and a complete defence to an accusation of defamation.

    However, merely using fake names is not enough to protect against a defamation claim. If a reasonable person would be able to infer the identity of the person from the defamatory statement, then you can still be liable.

    The exact harm that must be caused is that the statements must cause the person's reputation to be lowered in the estimation of right thinking people (incidentally, I can provide case precedent, if anyone cares).

    And the defences to a defamation claim are: justification (the facts were true), fair comment (the right to comment on a matter of public interest; but this only applies to opinions, not facts), and qualified privilege (freedom of speech, with journalism, etc.).


    Interestingly, you're also protected from defamation if your statements are made in the UK Parliament, as a part of parliamentary proceedings. Though that probably doesn't help anyone here too much...
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Worse yet, the burden of proof lies with the person who made the defamatory statements. In other words, you have to prove that what you wroite is true, the plaintiff does not have to prove that the statement is false.

    Even if you don't libel the person (slander is verbal defamation, libel is defamation in writing), you can be sued for invasion of privacy if you reveal personal details about someone who is not a public figure (and in some instances, even if they are a public figure). If a character is sufficiently recognizable by name, description, or other means sufficient to convince the court that the character represents an actual person, you are vulnerable.

    You should plan on having a lawyer go over the manuscript with you. Such books can be a legal minefield.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!... cog just said what i was about to, saving me typing time yet again...

    bottom line is you shouldn't be following advice from folks on a writing site about this... other than the bit about needing a lawyer...

    only a literary attorney can give you the legal lowdown on what you want to do... and i can guarantee s/he'll say 'don't!'... naming names [or including re-/un-named but still recognizable real folks] can get you sued till the cows come home and possibly much worse, if some of those characters are in the habit of taking other than legal means to deal with 'rat finks'...
     

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