1. Hannibal Alexander
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    Hannibal Alexander Senior Member

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    Using Real Life Celebs and Companies in your Book?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Hannibal Alexander, Dec 6, 2012.

    1. can i get sued if i have a small plotline that includes say... Zac Efron, the record label Def Jam, and Rihanna, and i use their actual names?

    2. the reason i'm asking is because i tend to hate in books when they invent celebrities or labels or films because i never have a true sense of like how big the celebrity is and who they are. it's just a name. i've read some books that use real celeb names and it is better for me. and as a writer shouldn't you write what you actually like?

    3. even if the book is fiction... can i get into trouble for using real names like that?
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on how they are used in the story and what you write about them. The bigger problem you have is that their inclusion will date your story.

    Why do you want to use these celebrities? If you have a character that really likes them, listens to their records all the time, watches their movies, is president of their fan clubs, etc, even meets or fantasizes about them, that's usually fine.

    If they are some sort of major point in the story, or become a character (especially if they are dislikable), or they are portrayed in some sort of negative light, that is more likely to cause a problem.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    If you plan on mentioning them, and titles of songs they've done, so as to place your story in a specific time and place, there is nothing wrong with that (although you need to check to see if they have secured trademark protection for their names). If they play incidental roles in your story and you do not defame them or attribute negative attributes to them, no problem. However, if you plan on showing negative aspects of them, even if they are things you've read about, that gets you into a murky area and I would advise you to go slow. You also cannot use any lyrics from their songs without permission, because that violates their copyright.

    In his novel "High Fidelity", Nick Hornby constantly used song titles to make character references, but I don't believe he ever mentioned an artist.

    I mentioned relating negative actions by them, even if you've read them in print. In a libel case, truth is a defense. But it's an affirmative defense, which means that the burden of proof would be on the one being sued. That means it's also an expensive defense, even if you win.
     
  4. Hannibal Alexander
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    Hannibal Alexander Senior Member

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    well. i do portray (or am planning to portray) Def Jam in a sort of negative light. Rihanna comes off fine. and my main character has a fling with Zac Efron that will just be mentioned and not detailed (gay fling).
    i guess what i'm thinking is... i've imagined this main character and his world being in reality and i think it'll be easier for me to write if i keep thing like that and don't have to worry about fake names or whatever.
    how about this... i don't SAY Rihanna or Zac Efron or Def Jam... but i allude to it in a way where the reader (especially a contemporary reader) would definitely know without a doubt who i'm talking about. any trouble there?
     
  5. Hannibal Alexander
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    Hannibal Alexander Senior Member

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    thanks for your reply.
    i think what i should probably do is just write it out in rough draft exactly how i want it... and than come back and revise it with just allusions of who these people are.
     
  6. Luna13
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    Luna13 Active Member

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    I haven't read that one, but in another Nick Hornby Novel, "About a Boy," the characters frequently talk about the band Nirvana and the death of the lead singer plays a fairly significant role in the story.
     
  7. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Run. You seriously want to make a claim about a homosexual affair with Zac Efron? How would that not be taken as offensive? (Not that I have any knowledge of the man's sexual preferences). And since I assume it didn't happen it would by definition be untrue. You would have no defence whatsoever.

    But the better question I think is why are you even bothering with these people's names at all? The first thing that would occur to me not having read your work, and I would guess to their lawyers, would be that you're trying to ride their coat tails, to boost the popularity of your work by name dropping. If your work's good you shouldn't need to do this at all. And you could be open to all sorts of other legal actions.

    My advice, make up some fake celeb's and say whatever you want about them.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Isn't the term "fake celebs" redundant?
     
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    With what you want to do in this plot point, I think you're better off with a fictional celebrity for your MC's love interest. The character can obviously be inspired by Zac Efron, but I'd give him a different name and not refer specifically to any of his films. You can change the name -- note that he was most famous from a long running show called Springfield High Drama Club or something and you can make the types of films and fans he has similar. People can think, 'oh, he's kind of like Zac Efron.' Your character can be inspired by him, but don't imply that it actually is him. And certainly don't make him from the same place where Zac Efron is from (although I don't know where that is.)
     
  10. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    I dont get why you need to use real celebs honestly. Your writing the story so you are making the 'celebs' as big as you need. You will have so much more freedom with your own characters. Plus you could alienate a certain amount of readers. Some might not like Rhianna or Zac and just for that reason not consider it a good read, (no matter what the story is really like)

    Also Celebs are a brand in themselves (mostly for tax purposes) and they are marketed as such, so using them can, in a way, be no different to using say Harry Potter or Gregory House and realistically you would not want to use them. Just because they are real doesn't make it right.
    Financially they would be entitled to royalties if you did get published especially if you used them as the driving force to get the book over.

    Tread carefully.

    This is if you want to think about publishing.
    If doing it for fun, it would fit quite nicely in the fan fiction genre.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...not if you just mention them... but if you denigrate them in any way, you can...

    ...not necessarily... consider the fact that all your readers will not know who/what those names are... and what is popular now may not be when the book comes out, since it will take one and a half to two years from when you sign a contract with a publisher, to when the book will be in bookstores... plus, it may take years for you to find an agent and get a publisher, so that puts the book several years further down the road...

    ...see answer to #1...
     
  12. will565
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    will565 Member

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    Just create a background for your fictional celebrities life. You don't need to use somebody like Zac Efron or Rihanna. Just describe how famous this celebrity is and your reader's imaginations will do the rest of the work.
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it wouldn't be allowed, i.e. it would be seen as using their fame to further your book's success, I am pretty sure you wouldn't be able to get away with subplots involving real celebs as characters. Recently Lady Gaga sued and won, the cartoon maker who made a cartoon with a character that was supposed to be Gaga. The reason was that she spent many years carefully crafting her persona and the cartoon makers took it without permission to make a popular cartoon that was popular because it had a Gaga character in it.

    The only way you can mention them is for example, if your original character likes a song by a particular well known celebrity (like, is a Madonna fan, then listens to some Madonna songs to relax or some such), but that's the extent of it. Think of their name as a brand, an intellectual property, which should not be infringed.
     

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