1. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Writing about/referring to an organization that already exists

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by agentkirb, May 14, 2012.

    I was thinking about a plot for a story, and it would be based in a world that already exists and perhaps might even be inspired by a story that actually happened. I'm not completely sure what the general consensus is for how to handle something like this though. I know there are movies and probably books as well that refer to people that actually exist. I'm sure at some point they got the person's permission so it wasn't an issue, but I'm not really interested in the legal side of this issue because I know that if I actually tried to sell this eventually it would be incredibly easy to just change the names of everything.

    So lets say we're talking about the world of professional poker for example. There are organizations (WPT and WSOP for example) that actually exist that make up a large part of the professional poker world. You have "famous" poker players that have their own back stories, you have the commentators and reporters that cover major events. If I were to do a story where I write about a cop that has to infiltrate this world in order to take down a poker player that runs an undercover drug ring or something... I feel like it would be better to use real people and perhaps refer to real events because for someone that follows the professional poker world, that makes the story just a little bit more interesting. Especially if I did a lot of research to who these people are.

    I think where I would draw the line is if I were to create a character for a story. Like I wouldn't make this "bad" poker player and name if after a real person.

    Anyways, what do you guys think about this issue?
     
  2. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    You said you are not interested in legal issues, but that's the only issue I see in using real persons' names and organizations, doesn't matter if you are using them in good or bad light.
     
  3. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Well, I was more interested in hearing what people's opinions were on the issue and maybe other factors that might effect whether or not people like the story. For example... say if I did a story about the NBA where Kobe Bryant is an NBA player by night, but a crazy serial killer by day. It seems like if someone was a fan of the player, that would be enough to turn them off reading the story on it's own. It's kind of an extreme example, but you don't want to turn readers off if you aren't really getting a benefit from doing this.

    But then again, some of my favorite movies are based on true stories that refer to real people, have characters based on real people and all that. "Miracle", the movie about the 1980s Olympic hockey team, just wouldn't be the same if they had changed the names of everyone in order to skirt legal issues. And at the same time a movie like that exposes that story to people that might not have known enough about it.
     
  4. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    i would avoid it where possible, its a slippery slope. You say you don't care about the legal aspects but believe me the moment you tried to publish, you would. Avoid using real world people in a fiction story, there is a good reason they have "all characters in this story are fictional all similarity to real people is purely coincidental" at the end of pretty much every film you see.

    I cant really think of any other aspect other than the legal one. unless you know the people and don't want to fall out with them. to use your example I don't think people would be put off by this. there is no such thing as bad advertising and all that.
     
  5. C.B Harrington
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    C.B Harrington Member

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    If you want to write fan fiction based on the WPT and post it on a blog or something, there isn't much legal issue with that - as long as you aren't defamatory. However, if you're talking about a real published novel, then no it's not a good idea. I personally wouldn't read it and I doubt many poker fans would.

    'Miracle' was based on a true story that millions of people watched in the 1980's. You're talking about writing a completely fictional story centered around the WPT, and having real poker players make cameos or be part of the story - to me, that's out of the question. (As a publishable novel - the above fan fiction still stands)
     
  6. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I just want to be clear. The reason I say I'm not worried about the legal issue is because I know it would take me maybe an hour to change all of the relevant names in the story if I were to eventually publish it. Although, I can say with 95% certainty that this story probably won't be published anyway.
     
  7. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    Well... changing a name is easy nowadays. If you write on a computer, just use the "replace X by Y" and you'll be fine.

    Just use names you feel good with, if there is a problem it can be changed.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you do that, ak, the issue isn't how easy/quickly you can change the names, it's that if even one person other than yourself reads what you wrote with those real people's names included, you could already be in legal hot water... you need to be asking this question of a literary attorney, not writing site members who mean well, but don't deal with these issues on a practicing attorney's level...

    and yes, that includes myself, as a not-100%-knowledgeable source...
     
  9. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I don't see how as long as I don't publish the book and try to make money off of it. That's kind of why I stated up front that I'm not asking about the legal issues because I'm pretty certain that it's not going to matter unless I try to sell it without changing the names.

    I made this thread really to discuss other issues that I might not have thought about that might make it a bad idea to do and to express my opinion on it... which is I wouldn't want to base a major character off of someone real just because I don't think readers would like it if I didn't depict his personality correctly and I feel it would take away from the story. But mentioning real people in passing or having them interact with the MC on a very minimal level... I think that's probably okay.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm confused. In your earlier post, you said "I feel like it would be better to use real people and perhaps refer to real events because for someone that follows the professional poker world, that makes the story just a little bit more interesting." If no one but you will ever see these real-world names, then why does it matter that the names that they will never see would have made the story more interesting? Do you mean that it would be more interesting for you as the author?
     
  11. indy5live
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    indy5live Active Member

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    It's one thing to mention a person, it's another thing to have them playing a role in your story. If I wanted to say Jill took a sip of her Coca-Cola and spat it out because it tasted like cigarette ash, that's fine, but to base my story around a Coca-Cola Bottling Factory that doesn't enforce the No Smoking policy and ash is getting into the soda and causing people to get sick...that's a completely different issue. One is a plug, where a name or brand is just being inserted in the place of coke or soda or pop, whereas the other example is potentially libel - misleading or untruthful information about a person or company. It's always best to cover yourself but you can also solve your problem by basing the true on a historical event, like when Moneymaker put Online Poker on the map by winning his way into the WSOP and winning the main event, just tie your story into that actual story. I don't see the problem in that.
     
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  12. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Other people would see it too. As of right now, my "relationship" with writing is I write maybe like a 50-75K word story (probably a little short for a legit novel), and then I'll post it for free on a website somewhere. That's why I'm not really concerned with the legal issues because I know that those issues only occur if I publish the story. So if I were to write this story, knowing it's probably not going to be published or sold for money, I might use real events and real people's names. But I wondered if there were other factors outside of the legal ones that I might want to consider which was one of the reasons why I made this thread.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh. My. No. When you post it for free on a website, you _have_ published it. And you are vulnerable to every single one of the same legal issues that you would be vulnerable to if you published it for money. The fact that you're not making money does not offer you any legal protection whatsoever.

    (Edited to add: OK, the lack of profit _might_ have some small impact in certain specific copyright violation situations. But for defamation/libel, whether against a person, an organization, a place, or a product? None at all. You are, absolutely, vulnerable.)
     
  14. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    I'd lean towards not doing it, but then again people bash the Catholic Church all the time and get away with it... Perhaps because the Vatican is a political institution.
     
  15. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Okay, I'll keep that in mind. I don't plan on bashing anyone though.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Copyright violation does not depend on profit either. The settlement may, but not the facts of copyright infringement.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's not a matter of anything to do with copyright, since no prior written work is involved... it's about privacy and libel/defamation/et al. matters, which is why i wrote what i did...

    that includes posting it anywhere that anyone other than yourself can read it... you don't seem to understand or want to accept the fact that you could be legally at risk to do what you want to, regardless of whether or not it's ever actually put into book form by a publisher, or made available as a published e-book...

    which is why you really should be consulting a literary attorney, instead of relying solely on anything said about it here, or on what you erroneously think is so...
     
  18. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Ok, so I just won't get into trouble with those sorts of things. In general I think it's a bad idea to depict something in any manner other than factual (and in a positive light if possible) but not because of legal reasons but just because I don't want that to be the reason why someone doesn't like my story.

    I didn't want this thread to turn into the legal factors involved because I know there are a lot.
     

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