Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day August 17, 2012 - 10:15am

I recently completed a novella and 2 exerts contain fictitious conversations with celebrities, Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman.  They are harmless, fake exchanges - nothing that I would consider libel or slanderous.  If anything, I think I portray both of them in a real positive light. That said, if my story ever makes it to the light of day or I self publish on Amazon (which I'm considering), am I opening myself up to any kind of legal recourse as I am using real people, without their permission, in a work of clear fiction?

 

Any help would be great appreciated!!

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading Perfidia August 17, 2012 - 10:19am

I came across the following  - http://www.copylaw.org/2010/07/libel-in-fiction.html

It seems to be clearly aligned to American Law (mentions the First Amendment) so this would suggest that there are different laws for different countries, but the guidance seems generally sound.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer August 17, 2012 - 11:29am

You are definitely opening yourself to legal recourse. Keep in mind, there is a big difference between being theoretically legal and not getting sued. Even if you don't lose, you will rack up large legal fees should anyone decide to sue you. Chances are, the celebrities have more money than you do.

Also, keep in mind that parody is protected by the first ammendment, use of the actual person may not be, especially if your characters are interacting with them, not just mentioning them, and especially if they happen to be trademarked.

If I was you, I would fictionalize the celebrities. It will reduce any likelyhood that you are going to get sued. Celebrities make money with their images. A lot of them don't like it when other people make money on them without their permission.

 

Mess_Jess's picture
Mess_Jess from Sydney, Australia, living in Toronto, Canada is reading Perfect by Rachael Joyce August 17, 2012 - 4:31pm

When I was a lawyer, I would flirt with defaming people I didn't like (and I probably still do), defending this with one of my favourite phrases: "Defamation is a rich man's sport". In this case, these celebrities are filthy, stinking rich. If I were you, I'd run with Jack Campbell Jnr's very sound advice to fictionalize the celebrities.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like August 17, 2012 - 5:29pm

I've wondered about this stuff, too.  Libel and slander VS parody and satire.  I mean, can I really run a satire on some dude I know?  A celebrity, sure.  People do it all the time.  (People with corporate legal teams, that is.  See:  SNL, South Park)  But if they're not famous at all, there's no public perception against which the parody can create contrast.  Then there's the grey area: what if they're just kinda famous?  What if they're at cult status?  Local celebrity?  At what point does someone become a "public figure?"

I've wondered if some guy whose picture is in a meme can sue everybody who has ever posted an iteration of that meme.  Could Ryan Gosling slap a C&D on every gif-board on the net?  Regardless of whether or not it's actually enforceable, could he make a legal case on those "Hey Girl" pics?

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig August 17, 2012 - 8:31pm

I always err on the side of caution and fictionalize. For example, in one story Cosmopolitan magazine became Metropolitan. In another, a bar in MD called The Side Bar became The Judge's Rest.

There are a lot of benefits to this. No one is going to come to me and say "someone like that would never write for Cosmo!" or "They never had a poster of blahblah on the wall at The Sidebar!" if they are especially attached to those things--and it won't turn them off if they are especially bothered by those things. Nice little perk is that there is little worry over legality.

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life August 18, 2012 - 12:58am

Why in the name of god would you write about Reese Witherspoon? I mean, Natalie Portman, hubba-hubba et al, but Witherspoon looks like a surprised garden shovel and makes shitty movies. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated August 18, 2012 - 4:53am

I'd avoid them just because you never know how these people will mess up/fix there lives. Bringing up Natalie Portman now might very different after she gets a crack addiction, hits rehab, and then gives all her money to cancer research before she goes to live on a small ranch in southern Canada. Then boom, your writing has a whole mess attached to it you never wanted.

Mess_Jess's picture
Mess_Jess from Sydney, Australia, living in Toronto, Canada is reading Perfect by Rachael Joyce August 19, 2012 - 8:33am
Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin August 19, 2012 - 12:02pm

I have a short story that involves Natalie Portman that would probably get me sued, but that's ok... I keep that one in the private records...

Mess_Jess's picture
Mess_Jess from Sydney, Australia, living in Toronto, Canada is reading Perfect by Rachael Joyce August 19, 2012 - 1:36pm

Ha! Filed beside the Natalie Portman porno?

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin August 19, 2012 - 2:43pm

My Black Swan folder.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer August 20, 2012 - 3:39am

"But if they're not famous at all, there's no public perception against which the parody can create contrast." 

Exactly, which is why non-public figures are actually given greater protection in libel law. An average person just has to show that the potrayal is false. A celebrity has to show that the portrayal is false and they were somehow damaged by it.

Still, like I said before, there is a big difference between not breaking the law and not getting sued.