1. jazzisblue
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    jazzisblue New Member

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    Legal question

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jazzisblue, Jan 26, 2010.

    I'm new here and not sure where to post this or exactly how to word my question. I am starting a story that is based on a job I had for a few years. If it were to get published and my ex employer figured out it was about their company could I be sued? I plan on changing all of the names, but what else can I do without altering the events too much to prevent that from happening? This is purely hypothetical as I'm sure it won't ever be published. I'm curious though. Thanks so much and I look forward to participating more on the forum.
     
  2. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    The copyright is to show when you created the piece--i.e., that you alone have the right to sell the piece to a publisher. What I think you're suggesting has more to do with something called libel--which is maligning (and consequently damaging) someone or some company with something you've written.

    Nothing wrong with writing the story, in any case. Once you're considering having it published, that'd be the time to worry about any potential consequences (and by then you're likely to have a better idea about whether and how that might happen).

    That's my opinion.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Changing the names will not protect you. If the characters can be recognized by description or behavior, you can be sued for libel or otyer civil complaints (invasion of privacy can apply as well).

    Not only libel, but also breach of contract, depending on what kind of confidentiality clauses may have been in your employment contract.

    But it definitely has nothing to do with copyright. But you are on shaky legal ground.
     
  4. jazzisblue
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    jazzisblue New Member

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    I didn't think it was copyright, but couldn't think of what to call it. I definitely will keep all of that in consideration. And I'm pretty sure I still have my employee handbooks so I will check that out.

    I asked the question because I have a friend who used to work at the company that made a joke about them on Facebook. The very next day he got a letter from them via fedex telling him they would take legal action if he did not remove the comment and refrain from making further comments. Yikes.

    Thanks for the info!
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Another thing to consider is what is the salient theme of your story. If its primary aim is to embarrass or disclose something that's reputation-damaging or revealing of private or confidential matters, then I'd worry a lot--not the least of which worry would be whether or not the fiction itself was worthy of publication. If the primary aim of your story, however, is to launch an interesting piece of fiction about a character whose world falls apart within an office that looks and feels like a real one, that could be altogether a different "story," so to speak.

    Slamming someone's reputation in public (like on Facebook) is not the same thing as writing a piece of fiction that contains pieces of personal experience. If you write such a story, you'll probably learn quite a lot about why it's hard to convert real-world experiences directly into compelling fiction and maybe the true value of metaphor. If you do learn something from the experience about what it takes to do a good job of creating your story, you will have gained something of value from the process--whether or not you publish it.

    Good luck.
     
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This'll be why we see so many of the "all characters herein are fictional and resemblence to those living or dead is purely coincidental"-type disclaimers then. Not that one would protect you if someone thought otherwise and could offer corroborating evidence though.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    cog is right on all points [no surprise!]... individual co-workers could also sue for invasion of privacy, if they are recognizable...
     
  8. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Ask the people who are going to appear in your book if they're all right with that. Communication makes the world go 'round, after all.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    asking ahead of time is fine, but getting an 'ok' in writing is what's needed... a pre-book 'ok' can all too easily turn into a 'don't you dare!', when the final product is read...
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Even an agreement in writing is not bulletproof. The other person can probably claim that they were deceived as to the nature of their inclusion in the piece of writing, in essence nullifying the consent. Only if the signature is attached to the actual final manuscript would it be difficult for them to withdraw consent.
     
  11. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Wouldn't the easiest way around that be to change more than just names, but the entire profession, setting, ages, genders, races, and enhancing personalities or diminishing them...The storyline could remain, but instead of being lawyers they could work in a pizza joint. I would think in that case, it's more like fictionalizing a story about people based in real life, rather than writing a dramatization of actual events.
     
  12. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    As long as you aren't slandering/implicating anyone they can't touch you. Heck, even if you are they'd have to prove it. Look at "the Devil Wears Prada." Everyone knows its based on Anna Wintour, the she-devil editor for Vogue, but it doesn't directly name her or the magazine therefore it would never hold up in court. Such is the beauty of freedom of speech. God bless America. :D
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No. The burden of proof is on the accused defamer. And Freedom of Speech doesn't protect you from being sued.

    It's a litigious society, and there are many ways for people to cash in on you. Your best bet is not to take your stories or characters from real life.
     
  14. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or just write under a pseudonym, then how would anybody relate the story to you? Using a pseudonym seems really attractive to me anyway, but if I was worried about being sued I would definitely go for it.
     
  15. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    Cog is right, however is it a job that will be immediately recognisable, as a n example say it was for a fast food chain, setting it in any fictional fast food store a la clerks 2 can allow you to get the points across without any one company being able to sue effectively, although if the characters involved are recognisable then you may have issues
     

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