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  1. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    The ghost of a famous person

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by KP Williams, Aug 18, 2009.

    I wasn't really sure how to word this in a search. Maybe that's why I didn't find anything on this site or Google.

    My latest idea for the opening of my novel features a ghost doing... something. Right now, I'm thinking about making the ghost play the main character's guitar right in front of him. Thinking of ways to make that more interesting, I decided it would be fun to make it the ghost of Jimi Hendrix or some other late guitarist. I'm just concerned about what potential trouble that might cause.

    I know that using a real person in any significant way might be problematic, but this would be a pretty minor role. The ghost itself wouldn't be a major plot point; it would simply get the main character's mind thinking along the paths I need. I would say its appearances wouldn't take up more than a page or two. Also, the ghost wouldn't speak, attack, or do anything except play the guitar every time it makes an appearance. And finally, I wouldn't outright say that it's the ghost of Hendrix/etc., as that really isn't important. I'd just drop a hint here and there, perhaps have it play a Hendrix song as no one other than Hendrix could. I would think that would be okay, but I'd still like to make sure before I get too far into it. Thoughts?
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    It doesn't sound like it would be problematic from a defamation standpoint. The only issue I can see is using Hendrix's songs, which will still be protected under copyright- and therefore will require permision to use.


    Also, if you wanted to check out a similar idea, have a look at the role of Elvis' ghost in Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series.
     
  3. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I don't mean using the lyrics from his songs. The ghost wouldn't speak, so it wouldn't sing, either. It would just play some of his more recognizable songs, and since there's no way to transcribe music notes onto paper in a way that everyone would be able to appreciate, I'd just mention the name of the song. I've been told that's okay.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, there's no problem with using titles... just don't use any of the lyrics, without permission...

    you should learn the basics of copyright law, if you want to be a writer: www.copyright.gov
     
  5. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    All right, thanks to both of you. :D
     
  6. luckyprophet
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    luckyprophet Member

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    (You might use whatever you wish IF you don't intend it to be published in life :D ... not otherwise.)

    I particularly like the use made of Geoffrey Chaucer ("A knight's tale", movie), Leonardo Da Vinci ("Ever After", movie), and Albert Einstein ("I.Q.", yet another movie). However, I've read critics on Chaucer's bio, in the use they make of him in "A Knight's Tale" ... But these aren't ghosts.

    Only a few thoughts ...

    Parvo
     
  7. murphcas
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    murphcas Member

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    I don't think that sounds like a problem at all. A suggestion would be maybe the ghost appearing with a guitar.. like maybe the MC hears music from no where and then the ghost appears instead of him using the MC's guitar. In my head it just looks like it would be weird if the ghost picked up the guitar and started playing, but that's just how I see things you can obviously do whatever you want :)
     
  8. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Additionally, I wouldn't suggest anything insulting about the person whose ghost appears.

    It's not a copyright infringement to use names or people, but to suggest anything untoward about a person is considered libel.

    If you aren't violating copyright or libel laws, you should be safe.

    Charlie
     
  9. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    This isn't a problem and has been used in similar circumstances before, watch true romance for instance to see the wonderful conversations with Elvis, as long as you don't portray the ghost in a way which could reflect badly on the real person you should be fine.
     
  10. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Dean Koontz does this very thing with the ghost of Elvis in his Odd Thomas novels.

    Charlie
     
  11. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    A defamation case cannot be brought on behalf of a dead person. Whilst a coporate entity can sue for libel, a person must be alive to bring a case. Therefore, if said person is a ghost it follows that they are dead, and thus there's no danger of libel :)
     
  12. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    The relatives can't sue? I find it surprising that defaming the dead is permissible under the law.

    I'd have to research to verify or refute. I honestly don't know the answer.

    Charlie
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Really? Cannot libel also be alleged to have defamed a family name?
     
  14. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    This is under English law, so it may be different in the US.

    And a libel case can be brought for defamation of a family name, but it would have to be brought by a living member rather than an estate, and said defamation would have to affect them personally.
     
  15. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Now I'm going to say something that many people might find odd. I really don't know the law, but I suppose I'm an old fashioned type in some ways.

    Regardless of the law, don't defame the dead, because it's the wrong thing to do, morally and ethically.

    Wouldn't you want to have a clear conscience, in knowing you did the right thing?

    Then, you don't have to worry about who's right or who's wrong in the "Is it legal?" question.

    Charlie
     
  16. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I didn't say it was ethical, just legal.

    Personally, I agree with you, that it's best not to defame the dead just from a moral standpoint.
     
  17. shawsend
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    shawsend Active Member

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    Remember the movie "Amadeus"? He would take the song as originally intended and then skillfully change it all the while expressing great emotions and annoying those around him. So that's what I imagine the ghost doing: playfully taking one or several songs and effortlessly and in a comical way, talking to the guy about this part or that part of the song, changing it, being amused by his own creativity, asking the guy what he thinks, and just being Amadeus-like.
     
  18. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I figured you'd agree...and I didn't intend to suggest otherwise.

    I just thought it needed saying, as obvious as it was. :D

    On the legal end, frankly (especially in the US) I'd be surprised if it was so clear cut, when nothing in our legal system is clear cut. But I confess ignorance, and not knowing, best to be safe then sorry...and have a clear conscience to boot!
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in the us, family members can sue... the only question is whether the court will hear the case... or if they'll win, if it does...
     
  20. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    ELVIS! I was sad when he went away.

    But then came the ghost of Frank Sinatra...

    Off topic: I love Odd Thomas. Was thinking about rereading the first book today, actually.

    On topic: Yes, it can be done without hurting anyone's feelings. Just so long as you're not purposefully degrading the person's character or slandering them or something.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    milady:
    slandering is done in speech... libeling is done in print...
     

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