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Writing Books/RIGHTS WHEN WRITING AUTOBIOGRAPHIES

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Question
Hello,

Can you tell me if I write an autobiography and use names of real live people that I put in my book can they come back on me legally for using their name in my book.

Thanks.

Lesley

Answer
You should ask a lawyer. (I am not a lawyer).

I believe that there are two issues:

1) libel

2) privacy (if these are private individuals, not public figures)

If what you say is accurate and verifiable, you should not have a problem with the libel issue.  But even then, if you say things that make it appear that these people committed crimes or if what you say could significantly damage their reputations, you should definitely consult a lawyer before proceeding.

Privacy is trickier.  If you are mainly recounting what you did and what you observed, that shouldn't be an issue.  But you could easily  shift the focus from yourself to other people, and wind up exposing aspects of their lives that they have gone out of their way to keep private.  (The extreme cases would involve "outing" a spy or an undercover cop or a family in an identity protection program or exposing someone's sexual proclivities). Also, if what you wrote led directly to someone getting divorced or fired, you might get sued.  It's different with the "tell all" autobiographies by relatives of celebrities.  As "public" persons, celebrities are fair game.  But private individuals (people who don't ordinarily appear in the media) have a right to a reasonable degree of privacy.  If these words make you feel a little uncomfortable, that's a sign you should consult a lawyer.

You should also keep in mind that you can/should only use a photo of someone other than yourself if you have explicit written permission to use it in your book.

Good luck.

Richard Seltzer, seltzer@samizdat.com

Writing Books

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Richard Seltzer

Expertise

I prefer questions that directly relate to my current areas of interest: historical works and historical fiction dealing with Russia and Ethiopia around 1900.

Experience

Author of fiction:
The Name of Hero, historical novel (Tarcher/Houghton Mifflin)
The Lizard of Oz, fantasy (B&R Samizdat)
Also nonfiction:
The AltaVista Search Revolution (Osborne/McGraw-Hill)
Shop Online the Lazy Way (Macillan)

Publications
See my Web site http://www.samizdat.com/readers.html
for complete novels and short stories by me, as well as resources for
writers.

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