Do I have to get consent from people if I'm writing a fiction book? 8 Answers as of November 02, 2012

I'm writing a fiction novel but the characters are based on real people. When certain people read the book, they will know who the characters are based off of. Do I have to get these peoples consent for this? I know everyone will not be very happy with how they are portrayed and I don't want to get sued.

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The Law Offices of John J. Carney Esq.
The Law Offices of John J. Carney Esq. | John J. Carney
Ass long as you do not use their names and add a statement that all characters are fictional and not based on real persons you will not have to worry.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 11/2/2012
Law Offices of Neil Sussman
Law Offices of Neil Sussman | Neil Sussman
Yes, you need consent from the real people on who you base your fictional characters. If you do not get consent, and they do not like the way they are portrayed, they can bring claims against you.
Answer Applies to: Washington
Replied: 11/2/2012
Abts Law, LLC
Abts Law, LLC | Matthew Abts
If the characters are identifiable as people you know and you are revealing *private facts* about them, then yes, you could have liability under Oregon law. A rose by any other name . . . There are some steps you can take, however, that can make this kind of situation workable. You should contact an attorney for a consultation.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 11/1/2012
Neil J. Lehto, Esq.
Neil J. Lehto, Esq. | Neil J. Lehto
Fictional characters are not real people whether they unhappily claim to recognize themselves or not. Being unhappy is not enough. The tricky part for you and for them is whether other readers not only could identify them but the novel, for example, intentionally portrays them committing libelous acts that are false. Obviously, the range of claims real people may make against their portrayal in a novel is as wide as your imagination but the general rule is that they must be identifiable and what you write about them must be wrongful.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 11/1/2012
Entertainment Law Partners
Entertainment Law Partners | Tifanie Jodeh
If you are basing any of your characters on real life individuals, you must obtain a Name and Likeness clearance or else you expose yourself to a lawsuit for things such as right of publicity, misappropriation, etc. I always recommend that if you write a fictional literary work, that the author fictionalize not only the story, but also all the characters.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/1/2012
    Lawyer for Independent Media
    Lawyer for Independent Media | Sue Basko
    For California, I would add that you should be aware that books written in the manner you have described also cannot be made into movies. You should consult with a lawyer so your book might be usable. Legitimate publishers do not get involved with books that are written in such a way that they are likely to bring on lawsuits.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/30/2012
    Sebby Law Office
    Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
    People can and do sue for perceived slights, including being the subject, by name or by actions, of a book. Deliberately writing a character who can be recognized, by either the person on whom the character is based or by others who know of this person, is asking for trouble.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 10/31/2012
    Lawyer for Indie Media
    Lawyer for Indie Media | Sue Basko
    I work with this area of law. I suggest you consult with a lawyer during the whole process. Books such as this cannot be published by major or real publishers (not vanity press), because they pose too much legal risk. Most such books result in lawsuits. Major publishers do all they can to make the writing such that it is less likely to result in lawsuits, and they also carry significant Errors and Omissions (E & O) insurance.


    The rules on real life stories are very complex. If it is a historic person, or a public person who is still in the news, there is some leeway. Still, you should work closely with a lawyer during your writing process if you hope to publish the book. Books that are presented as if they are factual must be factual. Those presented as fictionalized must be clearly presented as such. Most fictionalized books of historic or public people end out being slammed by reviewers, unless they are very clever in some other way.


    If you are presenting people you know personally who are not historic or public figures, what is usually done is that characters are combined, life details are changed, real names are not used, places are changed, and so on to minimize damage to any person. However, you and your publisher can still expect to be sued. That is why most publishers reject such books.


    If the book is superb, a publisher may have their editors work with it to make is usable. If you want to get to that threshold and your writing is excellent, you should work with a lawyer who knows this field of law.


    However, if you proceed ahead and write stories about people you know and include details you know they will not like, then you will most likely be sued, ostracized, and have lots of personal and legal trouble.

    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 10/30/2012
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