Carol Vorvain (@writersboon) is an Australian international lawyer, mediator, author and founder of Writers Boon. Her books, When Dreams are Calling, Why not? - The island where happiness starts with a question and A Fool in Istanbul - The adventures of a self-denying workaholic have been featured in a number of travel magazines including the International Traveller magazine and can be found in libraries, bookstores and on Amazon.
The dangers of using real people in your writing.
Unless you have a vivid imagination, there is a high chance your characters are inspired, more or less by real people. I call them the shadows.
Now, the shadows might be thrilled to be in a novel and play the role of a charming young man or of a powerful fairy that brings happiness to everyone. Or, the shadows might be furious for being the inspiration for an old, grumpy witch or a serial killer. Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes it’s okay. Until it’s not so okay. Until you get into trouble.
Things you should never do as an author:
- Disclose private facts you have no authority to disclose;
- Use others’ image without their permission;
- Use others’ name without their permission to promote the book.
How you can protect yourself from future claims:
- Write a disclaimer, such as: “This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”
- If you are a non-fiction writer, write facts and stay as far as possible from putting labels on people.
- Do not accurately retell events. You are writing a fiction book. You are not in front of the jury giving statements.
- Respect others’ privacy. Do not use their image or photos with them without asking for permission. This includes posting on social media. If the photo was taken in a public space where there is no expectation of privacy you might get away with it or you might not. It all depends on the circumstances. So why risk it?
- Do not use others’ image to promote your book, unless you have written permission. I will say it again. Do not use others’ image to promote your book, unless you have written permission. Using anyone’s image for advertising or promotional purposes violates that person’s right to publicity. You could be liable for thousands of dollars in damages. To return to our hypothetical scenario, do not use your ex image on a book cover. And certainly not on a book whose title is The Monster. Even if you don’t specifically say Mr X is the Monster I am talking about in this book, you could be defaming him by portraying him in a “false light.”
As a rule of thumb, don’t make people angry. Don’t offend people. Don’t do to others what you don't want others to do to you.
Next week's article: Is using memorable lyrics in your book a good idea?
Disclaimer: Carol Vorvain is an Australian lawyer. This information is general in nature, has an informative purpose and does not constitute proper legal advice. For proper legal advice, please contact a lawyer in your jurisdiction.