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Question
Hi Catherine.
I am planning to write a book about my life experiences so far centreing mainly around my mother. I am 22 years old but I have had quite an eventful life so far, based around my mother's mental illness.  I am not fully conversant with the law regarding those still living being used in a publication. I am aware that there are laws regarding defamation of character and such.
I am currently studying English Literature/Journalism at Uni, so this is a project under work, not something I see as nearing completion anytime soon.
Just wondering if you have any tips or know much information about what can and cannot be written about a person, legally.
Thanks for any help,
Susannah

Answer
Susannah,

Thank you for writing. I answered a question very similar to this one recently, and because it was still active on the public board here at allexperts, I've copied it here for you, modified slightly to apply your question:


"I edited a book about a woman's struggle through her brother's suicide and all the external events (including family members, etc., who were often not portrayed in a positive light) -- she just chose to tell the truth, write her story, and she did publish it via e-book. She chose to do this, naming every source and every situation, and I took it on because contractually I had absolute indemnification.

As long as you don't "put words into their mouth," individuals can't claim libel, which is simply injury to a person's reputation -- as long as you write diplomatically and fairly about events that occurred, while still making the point you want to make. And the points you make must be true, not your opinion. If you have written documentation or professional, objective "witnesses" to back this up, you're pretty much on the safe side, but you're going to need a good editor to make sure YOU'RE being totally objective -- it's hard to see that yourself when you're feeling personal anger/resentment, etc., at the person(s) about whom you are writing --

However, before you even get to that point, just to be totally safe, I'd consult with a legal expert re: intellectual property on this -- they are listed here on allexperts, as well -- because this is about as far as my knowledge on the subject goes, since I'm just an editor. Also, libel laws are often updated, and I don't follow that, either.

If you choose to use pseudonyms for people and places, etc., you're still going to have to be extremely careful to not make it blatantly obvious whom you're referencing -- this can be cause for potential libel if other players come into it, such as family members or medical staff, friends, etc., and do not want to be identified by name, etc., but these are all big "If's," and you'll get a better feel for that with an IP attorney, or someone who deals in media law.  

And of course it should go without saying to never write anything slanderous about anyone, just to make the person or the story line seem "mean," or that in any way defames them wrongly. Whether they "deserve" it is not relevant in written form, etc.

You are wise to ask about this, because there are several issues regarding this kind of authorship that do require a great deal of journalistic and legal attention. I hope this helps and that you can find an outlet for your expression."

Good luck with this! The world needs good writers, perhaps more so today than ever; there are so many outlets of written information that often go unchecked, unedited, etc., so I am always so pleased to hear that your generation hasn't lost the desire to write with good intentions, factual information that can be verified, and integrity -- all of which I feel you will bring to this yet-unwritten book.


All Best,
Catherine Van Herrin

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Catherine Van Herrin

Expertise

I am an American-born, native English speaker with a BA in English and more than 26 years of professional editing, writing, and proofreading experience. I have edited several books and book-length manuscripts. References and titles available upon request.

For further work or assistance with larger projects, see my profile here, with 190 excellent reviews: WordChannel Professional Reviews, Ratings

I can use British-English or American-English, and I am very familiar with Chicago and AP style.

Experience

More than 26 years' U.S. publishing industry experience, editorial (print). I provide crystal-clear, clean grammar; strict attention to style, consistency, flow, logic, accuracy, and spelling, and I work quickly and efficiently.

I do not format or provide technical assistance in publishing books. I use MS Word only.

If I can help you further, contact me at the website above (create a job request) or write to me at ceg33@myway.com. My rate is $0.008 per word. Send requests/inquiries to ceg33@myway.com. I accept currency only through PayPal, with 50% of the total at project initiation; the balance is due upon project completion.



Organizations
Editorial Freelancers' Association, USA

Education/Credentials
AA, Liberal Arts, Anderson College, Anderson, South Carolina. BA, English, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. Post-graduate concentration: Post-war Irish poetry and early 18th century English fiction, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked with authors in the UK, Canada, the US, and several other countries. References and titles available on request.

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