1. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    Liability and Plagiarism - legal boundaries

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ojduffelworth, Jul 10, 2009.

    What are the legal issues relating to naming living people and passing negative judgment on them?
    In a novel can I hypothetically write something like “Paris Hilton is a whore” or “George Bush is a fool?’
    What can I get away with? Does it make any difference if my derogatory remarks are placed within a frictional work rather than a serious critique?

    A second question; I saw a book on the shelves called ‘Barry Trotter’. It was a comical spoof based on ‘Harry Potter.’ How far can you push this kind of parody without being liable for plagiarism?
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As for the first question, you're discussing libel wich is basically defamation of an individual (or possibly a group) through printed or written words, possibly pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words and/or gestures.

    I'm not sure anyone here is qualified to tell you the exact spot where you'd cross the line, especially if the entire context is not accurately included.

    Terry
     
  3. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Libel and plagiarism are not the same thing. Libel refers to slanderous written statements. Plagiarism is using someone else's writing as if it were your own. There are more potential "legal issues" relating to all-the-above than anyone could possibly know, in good part because many such matters unfold as they go, having a lot to do with who can afford the best legal counsel. Nobody usually cares about either unless there are dollars to be obtained in the outcome.

    So, if you're writing fiction, you should be fine as long as the work is your own and whatever references are made to contemporary figures are necessary to the storyline and the characters. No one's likely to publish it anyway if either problem is even suspected.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    What are the legal issues relating to naming living people and passing negative judgment on them?

    ...you can't be jailed for it, but you can be sued...

    ...if it's only said in dialog, by a character, you'd probably be able to get away with it... if it's in the narrative, it could be a bit more chancy, but it all depends on the context, in either case... if a publisher was worried about it, they'd simply ask you to change or delete it... if you self-published, that's another story...

    ditto above... rule of thumb: when in doubt, DON'T!

    as far as the originator will let you!... fyi, rowling and her publishers have sued some, let others slide... it's not a risk many want to take, when up against a billionaire and her powerful publisher...
     
  5. Wintersmith
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    Wintersmith New Member

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    If the work is entirely a parody it is protected speech in the US. In the case of your "Barry Trotter" you would be making a parody based on the existing work. You'd need to label it as such, of course. Bear in mind that I am not a lawyer and my advice is not legal counsel. That said, there are sources that discuss Fair Use and Parody.
     
  6. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    If people/writers weren't allowed to talk crap about celebs/political figures then most of the comedians/bloggers/writers/actors/other outspoken public figures would be in jail. lol
     
  7. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    "If people/writers weren't allowed to talk crap about celebs/political figures then most of the comedians/bloggers/writers/actors/other outspoken public figures would be in jail."

    - my thoughts exactly. Still there must be a legal limit? Or maybe not...just depends if someone wants to attempt to sue or not, it seems...

    What are the legal issues relating to naming living people and passing negative judgment on them?
    ..you can't be jailed for it, but you can be sued...

    you mean in America only I assume? An Australian was recently jailed in Thailand for writing a paragraph knocking the crown prince in a book that sold only 7 copies...I guess the answer to my question depends on the country?
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, the law will vary from country to country. But if you plan to write about real people and corporate entities, you really should consult with a lawyer in your jusidiction, not a bunch of strangers with unknown backgrounds and credentils on a worldwide forum.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, i did mean in america and commonwealth countries...

    and i agree with cog... never take advice you get on a writing site [or any other] as gospel... when in doubt, dig up a consultation fee and check it out with an attorney who specializes in literary law...
     
  10. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I don't think you can sue someone for hurting their feelings. Maybe if the book somehow lead to the downfall of an entire empire or something..
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Starseed, that could be a very expensive assumption to make.
     
  12. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Seriously, think about it. Every night on the late night talk shows hosts like Conan and Letterman rip on celebs in their monologues. Celebs/public figures are brutally made fun of in movies all the time. It happens ALL the time.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Celebrities put themselves in the public spotlight. That affects, to some extent, the liberties that can be taken with that image. But even that can be pushed too far.

    Really, be careful with your assumptions. If you are sued for libel, the burden of proof is upon you to prove the validity of what you write. The person you are alleged to defame does not have to prove that you lied.

    A good lawyer can turn your minor insult into devastating emotional impact, stress related disorders, loss of income, etc. It isn't worth the risk. If in doubt, scheck with a lawyer. If you have no doubts, reconsider the worst that could happen., abd check with a lawyer anyway.
     
  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    They way (good) comedians get away with pseudo-slander is that they take something true (or at least probable) and turn that into an attack on the person (sometime humourously, sometimes not...). Actual libel/slander only occurs when the statement is false and defamatory...so, you could call ol' Dubya a fool and get away with it, but calling Miss Hilton a whore is, technically, a lie, and therefore, libel.
     
  15. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    To win a defamtion lawsuit, the person suing would have to prove you cause them harm through you actions. Thus, if you said something that made them lose money, or suffered them in some other way that can be proven, they will win. It is a hard case though. Calling someone a name is not defamtion, unless by doing so you ruin thier character and cause them to lose business or harm. Maybe its different in context of writing, but I doubt it.
     
  16. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Yes this is true. Understand I was only thinking of saying things in a very lighthearted, obviously humorous way, as that is all I would ever consider doing. There is no one in this world I (or my characters)would ever say anything genuinely and personally hateful towards. :)

    Exactly.

    Exactly again- but there is also a matter of what's true and false, so I think it really does come down to what Arron said about it being false and defamatory. For example, in my book I say a lot of unfavorable things about the Chevron Texaco Corporations, mostly involving what they did in Ecuador. My book could get published and become well known and maybe some people would be turned off or even boycott Texaco because it brought this information to light for them. But is it slander? Could I be sued? No, because I'm only stating a true fact (along with the opinions of my characters of course). So something having truth behind it is everything, I think, otherwise we wouldn't have journalism at all.

    Another way of making a point about a public figure is to just make one up that is similar to a real person. Then you can do whatever the hell you want to them. Like in the movie Fast Food Nation.. it's a film with an agenda, and while the corporations involved in the film are made up, it's fairly clear to anyone watching what other major corporations are being referred to.
     
  17. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the input. It is glaringly obvious that qualified lawyer would need to be consulted in relation to a specific concern, but prior to that, it is interesting note the broad sentiment among postesrs!

    It’s amazing what George Carlin got away with!
     

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