1. Ian Yates
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    Ian Yates New Member

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    Using REAL PEOPLE in fiction

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ian Yates, Mar 22, 2013.

    I am quite new to writing, however have begun a lengthy project built upon an idea I had for a sci fi story.

    I have written about 20 pages so far, however I have included several actual "famous" people including rock stars and politicians, who are a fundamental part of the story. There will be many towards the end... some are dead and some are living. These become interwoven with my fictional characters.

    My question is, is there any reason I could end up in trouble if anybody referred to in the story ever saw the it?

    It is not intentionally derogatory, in fact all but a few are hero's...
     
  2. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    If you are just mentioning them, there is no problem. Like: "...And he thought he was so, Brad Pitt, that the two of them were going to do him, right there in the back seat..." as Koontz did in The Face. (that was paraphrasing). But if you are actually having them act and say things...you may want to run everything you have them doing or saying by a lawyer: just in case.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is potentially very dangerous territory. DEFINITELY consult a lawyer.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, you should definitely consult a literary attorney if you have live famous folks interacting with your fictional characters and you don't have their written permission to do so...
     
  5. Ian Yates
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    Ian Yates New Member

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    Thanks for that! So is it OK to use deceased characters?

    There is potential to use only deceased characters, and to remove any living people... This might be a little trickier tho!

    My cousin is a Lawyer... I've sent him a message, asking if he can help or has any suggestions.

    I've run my "synopsis" by a few close freinds, and they all rate the story quite highly... it would be such a shame to be scuppered at the first hurdle!
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You really need to ask a lawyer who specializes in literary law, and is familiar with rights of publicity. If your cousin does practice in this area, you are very lucky.

    This is generally not a good idea, and it really depends on the way the famous people are utilized in the story. Do you really need to use the particular real life people? Or can you create fictionalized versions of them that are similar but whose names and details are changed?
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why must the story rely on real persons, living or dead?

    And yes, that is what lies behind that standard disclaimer, some variation of:
    Deceased persons have living relatives who remain protective of the reputations of their beloved dead. It's wise to create your characters out of whole cloth.
     
  8. Ian Yates
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    Ian Yates New Member

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    The basis of the story is intertwined with the history of Rock and Roll music which is intrinsic to the plot... that is my dilemma... without using these real characters, I would really have no story, without weaving an entire new history and new Rock and Roll stars etc... of whom any reader would have no connection with!

    It is mainly the deceased, the likes of Buddy Holly and John Lennon, and the "fact" that they faked their deaths for a greater cause... so save Humanity... Dealing with evil aliens who are working to take over our world... I don't really want to go into it too much, for what are probably obvious reasons...

    And no, my Lawyer Cousin does not work in this field, although he is quite successful in his own...
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Public figures are not afforded the same degree of protection as private citizens. There's more leeway for extrapolation from their public persona. Not entirely unrestricted, but still more freedom to exercise artistic license.

    But the advice given above is sound - consult a literary attorney.
     
  10. Ian Yates
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    Ian Yates New Member

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    Thanks Cogito, that sounds promising... although I am quite worried now! I'm afraid I'll have to put it on hold until I can find out a little more!
     
  11. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Ya know...it's just way easier to write your story with thinly veiled characters that everyone kinda knows who they're 'spose to be rather than dive into the can of worm that that could end up being. And if you are saying that you can not write the book that way then, you really didn't have a viable story anyway.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    this is really dangerous water!... i can just see yoko and sean out for your blood and every penny you'll ever have in your lifetime, for even suggesting fictionally that their husband/father would do that and was not brutally murdered right in front of his wife's eyes...

    same goes for holly's surviving family members re his tragic death in a plane crash that also took the lives of richie valens and two others...

    btw, how on earth could you possibly make those well-documented/proven/witnessed deaths be 'faked'?

    and, since your cousin isn't a literary attorney, if you don't want to believe those of us who counsel against your doing this, have him find you one, since he won't know the ins and outs of literary libel...
     
  13. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    I was actually a little surprised by everyone's response here (not sure why, just didn't think it would be that big of a deal), so I searched "putting celebrities in fiction writing" and found the following: Ref

    This blogger is a published author, but gives no reference to actual law suits so I don't know... I like to see references when I research. As everyone has said; talk to a lawyer. I don't even know what the plot is, but I love rock n' roll history almost as much as I like sci-fi, so it's something I'd definitely read. That said, if it where me, I would probably scrap the project at this point :(. Because, if there's truth in this (and there probably is), a publisher won't touch it with a ten foot pole and self-publishing could result in you, by yourself, fighting a lengthy and expensive lawsuit.

    ...Then again, you might self publish, the book goes viral, you sell fifty million copies and ram Yoko's lawsuit right back down her throat :p.

    See what your cousin says. But keep in mind that according to one contractual lawyer I spoke to when working on a project of my own, disclaimers like "likenesses to people or celebrities are purely coincident" etc hold up as well in court as, "But, your honour, I was drunk."
     
  14. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    These aren't quite the same thing. One is a disclaimer, and one is an attempted defense. In most situations, being drunk is not a defense, particularly in a criminal prosecution.

    The story idea is interesting, and I can't say with 100% certainty that it would not be okay. But it is risky, especially with John Lennon being a relatively recent (I'm showing my age) celebrity, with a still-living surviving spouse and child. For example, the recent movie (which I haven't seen, but can surmise the basic plot) Lincoln the Vampire Killer or some similar title. If you used a celebrity who was more historical, the more likely you'd be to use the figure in your story.

    However, it strikes me that it wouldn't really be that hard to create fictional characters who were inspired by these rock legends -- change the details, but people could analogize the comparable figures as far as how influential they were in this alternative world and the rock and roll setting. It's okay, in a story like this, if you're inspired by the people, but mostly with respect to the significant role they played in rock and roll history. (The Law & Order shows do this sort of thing all the time.)

    If you're going the traditional publishing route, you can discuss the issue with an agent and a publisher, and they'll be able to advise you on whether the disguise is sufficient (and here, it most likely will be, because few people will think that you are really alleging that John Lennon did this, with the aliens and all. (Also, the publisher doesn't want to be sued, either.) If you're self pubbing, then run it by a lit attorney after you're done writing.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    AV, you're right. Disclaimers don't really carry much weight in reality. A judge or jury will look at your relationship to a plaintiff, and how closely your "fictional" character has in common with the plaintiff. Irrespective of renaming or adjusting appearances, if it loks like you are lifting your character from a real person, particularly if your character casts that person in an unfavorable light, you could end up paying damages.
     
  16. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    They are not at all the same thing. I was illustrating the worth of disclaimers such as that... With mild exaggeration.

    Thank you, Cog.
     

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