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Writing Books/Legal Issues - Real Organization


I'm interested in using a real, existing organization as a secondary villain in one of my novels. I would use this organization in a manner similar to Dan Brown's use of Opus Dei in the DaVinci Code. Specifically, I would like to use a fictional character in a totally fictional story that works for the real organization. I would also, however, provide factual information about the organization relevant to the story.

I understand the legal issues involving real persons, but am uncertain as to those involving organizations in the situation described above. Are there any legal issues I should be aware of? Are there any good resources to provide some guidance? Thanks.

The legalities of the organization, corporation, company, etc. is trademarked and registered and CAN NOT be used without expressed written consent through an attorney.

This is law to protect not only infringement, but slander, liable, defamation, misrepresentation, of that organization.

A writer could, even if without intention, misrepresent the registered trademark image of that identity, thus costing them their rightful business and profits, and would hold you liable for their losses and defamation.

Most fiction writers get around this liability issue by changing the name of the "organization" to a similar name. Example: Salvation Army can be changed to Salvation Unit, and the reader would understand the organization with the writers descriptive and content of that identity.

Names such as Oakland Raiders football franchise could be identified in a fictional novel as Californian Raiders, or Oakland Intruders, etc.

You can however, once establishing the "fictional name" of the organization, use their actual policies and practices as the basis of your fictional book. A lot of organizations, corporations, companies, and franchises share common practices such as structure and policy.

That is alright and safe as no one can hold you liable for a similarity that is not identified as them in actuality.

Some writers will use trademarked names, beginning with a capital of course, as real world portrayal, but... it is in passing such as a character stopped to eat at a corner McDonal's, etc. Or a character wore Nike tennis shoes, etc. This is alright as it is a fact in the real world, however, in the opening of the book a disclaimer is noted.

"Any trademark names mentioned is solely used for fictional literary effect and purposes and directly without permission."

Most authors are not sued for such.

But using a trademarked identity as an organization with your characters and a story plot could leave you open for liable.

In 1987 a pope tried to sue an author for use of his identity in a novel. He also tried to recall the copies and remove them from the shelves and the Supreme Court denied the pope and permitted the sale of the sale of the books and set the path for all authors to use real people in their fictional books-- however, that was in 1987 and things have changed since. You can be found liable if taken to court.

I found a good explanation of possibilities or "do's and don'ts) as a rule of thumb:

Read that and see if you can adjust your book by it.  

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Jannie Balliett


I am a published writer, Chief Editor and own A1 Editorial Service. I teach writing, specializing in novel writing, and creative writing. I can answer most any question concerning writing a book, plot and characterization, tighten the prose, and the editing process, and help advise with publishing and the requirements of obtaining a literary agent.


I'm a published writer, freelancer, and Chief Editor and own A1 Editorial Service. I teach writing for my two Online writer workshops.

Sisters In Crime Internet Chapter, The Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Brazos Writers Group.

Writers Post Journal magazine, May 2006 issue, Augusr 2006 issue, Nov/December 2006 issue and soon in 2008, On A Whim, flash fiction anthology, offered in Barnes & Nobles and Amazon.

Some college, creative writing, fiction writing

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