1. LMThomas
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    LMThomas Member

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    Using Real Companies/Politicians in Fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by LMThomas, Aug 13, 2012.

    Hi, everyone,

    I'm writing a novel based around conspiracies. Can I use fictionalized versions of real people and corporations? I remember in "Dark Skies" they had a character for JFK, and RFK, who had actual fictionalized parts. What about using someone contemporary? Like Bush, Obama, etc? Or a company like Walmart, IBM, etc.
     
  2. fwc577
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    fwc577 Member

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    The biggest thing you may need to be concerned about is slander.

    When was Dark Skies published? After JFK/RFK had died?

    If you take Wal-Mart and make them a mega evil corporation antagonist that does deplorable things in your novel they will shut you down.

    It's all about image with those places. Look at the dude who wrote a book and gave the cover a design similar to a Jack Daniel's bottle. They went after his design and asked him to change it.

    Stay away from people still alive unless what you are saying is a passing reference.
     
  3. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Definitely avoid the living. Dead famous people are fair game.

    Libel law is designed to protect one's standing in the community, and as such, only applies to living people who have standing to lose in the community--it does not extend to the deceased's estate, survivors, or anyone else. So you are perfectly safe if they are dead.

    If they are living, you are not safe from libel. They can sue.
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Actually, politicians can be used. Their covered in liability in only the most extreme of circumstances. Public figures, like Bush for example, don't have the same protections we have due to their publicity. That doesn't mean you have the right to say "X...did a goat" and get away with it. Corporations, are different story, they hold the same legal standing, civilly, as a person.
     
  5. LMThomas
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    LMThomas Member

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    I remember Bill Clinton was angry about being featured in "Contact" the movie version.
     
  6. LMThomas
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    LMThomas Member

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    What about in Non-Fiction. I was reading a book that was connecting IBM to funding Hitler (before WW2). I suppose if it's true you can mention something like that?
     
  7. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Not true. Politicians and public figures are not covered the same as we are. To be sue, and win, they need to establish malice behind the activity. Something that's very difficult to do even in civil court. That's how people can write books about politicians and not get sued etc etc
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, but make sure of your sources before you do.
     
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Plus it's established fact that there were several Nazi sympathizers in the USA. Charles Lindbergh was one. I don't remember all the companies but there were several who did also.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    so can the family members/descendants of dead ones...

    when in doubt, consult a literary attorney...

    and before you do anything, familiarize yourself with the trademark and copyright laws here:

    www.uspto.gov
    www.copyright.gov
     
  11. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Correct, obviously placing oneself in the public sphere raises the libel bar by a power of ten. And since there is a clear First Amendment interest in open discussion about those we elect to represent us, libel is a very difficult thing to establish. No doubt.

    But if you are creating a work of whole cloth about a living person, with no regard for reporting facts, it seems wiser to fictionalize them. Primary Colors was clearly a novel based on then-candidate Bill Clinton, but the novelist saw fit to alter the naming to "Governor Stanton" to keep the line of fictionalization clear, and that is probably a good idea.
     
  12. Vsevolod
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    Vsevolod Member

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    In your interests is not to.
     
  13. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    An attorney is always good advice. Under US law, families of the deceased do not have any legal standing with regard to the reputations of the deceased. But the attorney advice is still good for two reasons: (1) if you're not careful, there is the risk of inadvertently maligning someone close to the deceased, and (2) US law may not be the only law that counts.

    Here is what one attorney specializing in publishing law has to say about death and libel:

    http://www.rightsofwriters.com/2011/01/can-you-be-sued-for-libeling-dead-john.html
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    However, that is ONE attorney (if he is an attorney at all!). Far better to consult with a literary attorney with the specific facts of your case,
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not necessarily so, mark... if publicly maligning the deceased relative/ancestor would impact negatively on the surviving family/descendants, they would have a perfect right to seek redress in a civil court... the court [judge/s] has the final say as to whether the suit has sufficient merit or not...
     
  16. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    It still goes back to the term "malice" civil law. The only way they can sue for liable is if that can be proven and the Judge(s) have to decide that in court. Primary Colors wasn't written fictionally to cover himself as much as it was written that way to draw readers in. There are plenty of books out there about the Clinton/Bush/Obama presidencies and campaigns that are non-fiction and literal.

    This is directly from California code:

    Public figures including, among others, celebrities, politicians and those who thrust themselves or are thrust into public events, enjoy significantly less protection from statements that might otherwise be deemed to be defamatory than do “ordinary” persons. Because of the value of public comment on newsworthy events, the First Amendment requires that in order to establish defamation, such public figures must prove that the statements were false and were published with actual malice. Actual malice generally refers to statements made with knowledge of their falsity or in reckless disregard for whether they were false or not
    .
     
  17. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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  18. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    No reposting of his information allowed. Please follow link to see what it says. Directly above the words "Using the Internet" is a section dealing with slander and public officials.

    http://www.ivanhoffman.com/defamation.html
     
  19. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    True. Always best to consult an attorney.

    The consultation should be fairly quick and inexpensive if your question is about the libel risk of writing about a character who is both dead and famous, so don't let them bill you for more than half an hour. :)
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'slander' and 'libel' are not the same thing... look them up...

    and states may vary in what can and cannot be considered actionable... basically, any civil suit may be filed against anyone... it will be up to the court whether there are sufficient and/or allowable grounds to proceed to a trial...
     
  21. MJLowson
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    MJLowson Member

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    If you do anything like this, you've got to ensure that it remains realistic.

    Jeffrey Archer British Conservative MP wrote First Among Equals in the mid 1980s and the characters in the book mingled and worked with the real life politicians of the day, namely Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher amongst others. He does it very well.

    It's all about how you perceive people/groups. Anyone who is seen to be perceived in a negative light and you may find yourself in bother.

    I've started something similar with a political novel set after Scotland becomes independent but I'm trying to ensure that the political parties I'm using are not direct like for like comparisons even though it starts in May 2024
     
  22. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I'm not a lawyer so take this for what it's worth. Public figures are less able to defend themselves against libel and slander, but they can still sue if they feel agrieved enough. If they do then you have two defences. Either what you said was true, in which case they can't argue defamation. Or it was so obviously untrue that no reasonable person could believe it. The film Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter doing the rounds here at the moment springs to mind. If Abe was still alive, he could not sue. It is this second reason why commedians can stand up on a stage each night and make obviously untrue and defamatory statements about public figures.

    Changing names a little, eg JFK to RFK, might in some cases be enough to work as a defence,but you have to be able to show that while people might think the character is similar to the public person they would still not believe the reference to one is to the other.

    However, I agree with the others, if you intend to go down this road, seek legal advice.

    Cheers, Greg.
     

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