Monday, February 08, 2010

Q & A 176


Can I write a novel about a famous person? For example, a creationist gang kidnaps Richard Dawkins's wife Lalla Ward and gives him 24 hours to provide them with a kick-ass proof that evolution is false or they will massacre his wife. Will I risk a lawsuit? Will I have to pay royalties to Dawkins and his wife? And can I use some casual profanity like a professor mocking Dawkins: "Come on, Richy, work you ass on it. It's not that hard, you know." ? I know this is a legal question but I live in a forgotten country and I have no access to a reliable adviser on this stuff. Note: Dawkins's story is just an example, not my real story.


On the one hand, you have the right to free speech, allowing you to mock celebrities and use the word "ass." On the other hand, celebrities have the right to sue you for libel, invasion of privacy, and being poor--too poor to hire a team of celebrity attorneys like the ones they have.

You can probably get away with major political figures in obvious fiction, like the novel I'm currently writing, Dracula Vs. Barack Obama. Or Sherlock Holmes solving a case for Queen Elizabeth. Or with a small role, like Oprah Winfrey interviewing your main character. Otherwise you're gonna want permission, and permission won't be granted unless they can read the finished product, and if they don't like it, you've done a lot of work for nothing.

The TV show Dragnet used to open with a voice-over saying "The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent." The innocent, of course, were the producers, who didn't want to get sued.

The novel is fiction, come up with a fictional main character who has many (but not too many) of the qualities of the celebrity you obviously based him on, even though you'll never admit it.

6 comments:

150 said...

I advise against using the line, "Come on, Richy, work you ass on it" unless actually delivered by Ricky Ricardo.

Angie said...

I am rooting for Dracula.

Phoenix said...

Can you actually massacre just one person? Could I be sued for libeling grammar? And is there a word for that: grammabeling? libegramming?

Off to ponder...

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Unless this is an actual historical figure, I would just change the name and save yourself a lot of hassle.

blogless troll said...

And is there a word for that:

I think it's "grammassacre."

batgirl said...

Producers are innocent? Since when?