Writing Books/fiction based on real people
QUESTION: If I write a parody of a real event, and use the names of the real characters involved in that event, will I face any legal problems? The event took place in about 1980, and many of the people are still living.
ANSWER: Hi Jim,
You could potentially face legal issues, yes. For example, if you wrote a parody book of Former President Clinton and you called him President Clinton in the book, then it really becomes tricky. If what you wrote can be perceived as derogatory or degrading in some way, then it could open the door for a libel or slander lawsuit.
As a general practice it's considered a good idea to change the names. Any time you are writing a parody about something that actually happened and you are basing the story on real people, change their names. When in doubt, change it out. That's my advice.
I hope this helps.
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QUESTION: This is not intended to mock anyone. The idea is to make a parody based on the real events concerning the production of a movie under very difficult circumstances and involving certain eccentric characters, some of which are still living, including the director. But it will clearly be an exaggeration and intended to be funny.
For example, Woody Allen wrote a short story parody based on the letters Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, as if they were dentists. I don't think if Vincent and Theo were alive and read it they'd be offended, instead they would probably laugh.
Anyway, it's a tricky issue. I also intended to put a disclaimer mentioning that although the characters are based on real people, it is a fictitious account.
I would, at the very least, include a disclaimer. If I'm also wanting to use the names of real people, and those people are still alive, it might be a good idea to try to contact them and explain your project and see if you can get their blessing. I wouldn't personally write about anyone who is still alive or recently deceased. It can be done, I just be cautious in how you approach it and where the humor is aimed.
I hope this helps!