1. GeorgiaB
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    GeorgiaB Member

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    Referencing a Real Person in your Work

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GeorgiaB, Apr 16, 2012.

    Hi Everyone,

    This may fit into the "Research" category -- if so, I'm sorry!

    Here's my issue: In my novel, I need to have an expert, probably a doctor of psychology, who will discuss all aspects of heroism. She, of course, is fictional. I've been doing lots of research on the topic, and one name continually comes up regarding this topic: Philip Zimbardo. He did the Stanford Prison Study 30 years or so ago, which is pretty famous, and because of that research he was an expert witness during the Abu Gharaib (sp?) trial. But I wasn't aware of the more recent studies he has done on heroism, and a program he has begun called the Heroic Imagination Project. In terms of my book, the fact that he is an expert on both the evil and heroic things humans can do is exciting research for me. (Sorry for all the background -- it really interests me!)

    There's no way the character in my book wouldn't specifically mention him by name. I was hoping to simply say, "Research shows that...."

    I've written a master's thesis, so I know how to footnote and everything like that. But this is different.

    Any advice? You all have always given me great advice.

    Thanks!

    Georgia
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writers "steal" all the time, things they read or hear etc. As long as you are not quoting his actual words, or using a unique theory which can be easily traced back to that specific person, as long as you mix and match the sources to come up with information your character will refer to in his scenes, I think you'll be fine :)
    Writers do research all the time; sometimes they use their own knowledge they obtained at University and such, and they rarely if ever reference anyone. You might choose to state on the back cover of your future book that you have a master's thesis in a related field, but this is by no means compulsory.
     
  3. GeorgiaB
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    GeorgiaB Member

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    Thanks for your answer! I want to use his real name, though, and reference his real research. I'm not planning to use direct quotes, though, and I will make sure my sources are documented. I know I wouldn't have to do anything other than that if I were doing a research paper. But if it's a novel...? Not sure. I actually have an email address for him (written at the bottom of one of his articles), but I'm terrified to try contacting him. :) I'm thinking I'll write the novel, see if I think it's at all worthwhile, and then try contacting him in some months. Not sure, though.

    Thanks again.

    Georgia
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, well that changes things completely. Unless you are writing a meta-analysis or a scientific paper, in which case you don't need permissions, just a sturdy referencing system, you will need permission to use his real name and his research in a fiction novel.
    He is a person and owns the copyright to his persona, and that includes his theories and research. You could get away with using the name, but the character would have to be someone completely different so much so that nobody would be able to claim you have modelled the character on him. Very rarely, people might give permission, but that's usually for their biographies. I don't know of anyone living and famous who allowed their persona to be used in other people's fiction. Certainly, I wouldn't allow it. If you think about it, using a famous person's persona in your novel automatically makes it interesting for certain buyers, but it is riding off the fame of that person and their intellectual property, not what you have written. For that reason, they would need to be compensated, if they ever gave permission at all.

    Only recently there was a huge legal case between Lady Gaga and some cartoonists. They modelled their new cartoon on her, the character looked like a caricature of Gaga and was a pop singer. It wasn't strictly about her, or her songs (they changed them slightly, just enough to avoid copyright issues) and the cartoon became really popular. Gaga sued them claiming that they would have never became so successful if they didn't model the character on her, and that her whole persona is her life's work and as such, subject to copyright. Of course, she won. All the cartoons were withdrawn, anyone broadcasting them was faced with heavy fines and I am pretty sure the legal costs for the cartoonists were very high. So all that effort for nothing. But I think Gaga was right, it's obvious why that sort of thing shouldn't be allowed.

    I am sorry, I think you would have much, much easier time if you model the character on him but modify it significantly, and use a variety of sources for the scientific material.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you're going to use his name and refer to his research in a novel, i'd strongly advise you to get his permission first... it's not only the correct thing to do morally and for courtesy's sake, but is a necessary CYA step, imo... an email to the guy is far cheaper than an attorney's consult fee, or legal fees, if you're sued...

    the worst he can say is 'no'... and if he does, you'd be wise to respect his wishes and fictionalize the info and researcher in the book so it/he won't be recognized...
     
  6. GeorgiaB
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    GeorgiaB Member

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    Before I read your posts, Jazzabel and Mamma, I realized last night that I could write this story without using his specific name and specific research. But I still hadn't realized what a challenge it would be if I did. Thanks for your help. I would never try to do something like that without specific permission, but hadn't thought so far to see that it would probably be impossible to get it. (Or that he wouldn't be flattered. That's a joke. :))

    So, I think I can make my fictional psychologist's words a little more generic, while using the research I've done mostly to strengthen my character.

    It was just so interesting to come across someone who is studying exactly the questions I am asking in my book. Maybe it is not that unlikely, but it was still pretty exciting.

    Thanks!

    Georgia
     
  7. naturemage
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    naturemage Active Member

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    Ok, so is this fiction or non-fiction? In both cases, I think you'd need his permission. But, if its fiction, I'd say just give the person a new name. It's not worth chancing lawsuits and such.
     
  8. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It'll be harder to make someone new, but it will be more rewarding. Best of luck with your book :)
     
  9. GeorgiaB
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    GeorgiaB Member

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    Thanks!
     
  10. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I wouldn't use his name, or even the recognised studies. For a start he may be miffed by it, and worse still if you want his theories to fit your novel, you may have to alter them slightly. Its one thing to quote him, but to misquote him would bring a whole new level of angst to the writing. Besides, when was the last time you read a fictional novel where the author quoted actual research? It doesn't happen.

    If you want to use his findings, go for it. They've been published so they're public knowlege, just make sure you either get them one hundred percent accurate, or else alter them enough (make them generic) so that they can't be linked back to actual research.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, definitely!!!
     
  12. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    Unless you are doing parody or satire then change the name or get his permission. Parody and satire (and a few other things) are covered under the Fair Use part of copyright law (at least in the US). That's why Saturday Night Live can mock anyone they like. Wierd Al Yankovic has similar protection, though he does obtain permission from the artists he parodies (doing so actually gets them to advertise the work, so it is not solely because he is a nice guy). Genre is another consideration. I'm writing urban fantasy right now. I could totally write a scene where it turns out Wal-mart is run by a cabal of necromancers that ritually kill and reanimate their employees so as not to pay health care or more than minimum wage. No one would take is seriously, so Wal-mart can't really take issue with it.

    My advice would be if your character quotes or blatantly uses his research, then have her remark "and the distinguished Professor Zimbardo did research into..." and such and such. Or just make up another name and keep the ideas introduced generic.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can get yourself in a real mess if you greatly misrepresent what the person was writing about, whether intentionally or by misunderstanding.
     
  14. GeorgiaB
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    GeorgiaB Member

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    I've definitely decided not to do it, although I would love to reference the Stanford Prison Experiment (which is mentioned everywhere, so it's pretty common knowledge, but the experiment and his name go hand-in-hand) and I would love to continue on to discuss his more recent studies on heroism. :( But I think I can communicate what I need to convey through generic terms. There are social psychology definitions my fictional character can describe that will cover a lot.

    So, thanks again for your feedback!

    Georgia
     

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