You are here:

Writing Books/Copyright Question


Hi, I am in the beginning stages of writing a non fiction book about my last boyfriend who passed away. Do I need to get permission to publish his emails to me? How do I go about getting permission to use his name and family names? What is the process? Thanks!

Hello Liz:

I am not a lawyer, and a brief search turned up no help on the Net, but here are some things to think about:

Since the emails in question would be owned either by you or him, and he is deceased, you would own them by default I would think. In any case, who would you get permission from?

Since there are at least 1,000 slips between writing a book and getting it published, it's a little premature to be concerned about this now. If you ever do get a contract from a publisher, no doubt their lawyers can ease your mind.

If there is a problem, it will doubtless come from his family. What is your relationship with them? If you only write positive things about him, readers won't read it - we all know how boring unremitting good news can be. If you publish anything that is detrimental to his reputation (even if true) his family may object but they can't sue you, or at least it's unlikely they would win in court. Libel law states clearly that (1) they must prove he had a reputation to protect (meaning income), (2) that you injured it with your words and (3) what you wrote about him was not true. This is very difficult and costs money besides.

So how can you protect yourself? First, you might tell his relatives that you are THINKING ABOUT WRITING A STORY about your love affair. If they start objecting right away, withdraw and plan to change names, cities, events - in other words, disguise him completely, as well as yourself and his family - write fiction, in other words.

If they think it's okay if you write a book, tell them a little bit about how you plan to treat him - what "spin" you plan to put on the relationship. If you're very angry at him for something he did, will you be straight out with that information, or will you sugarcoat it for his sake, or for the sake of his family? Will you emphasize his good points or concentrate on the stupid things he did? Tell them. Make it clear that you have no idea if you'll ever finish this book, or if it will ever be published. You're just sounding them out. No doubt if you stick with it, you'll have opportunities to talk to them as you go along.

If you do stick with it and the time comes when you are ready to begin seeking an agent or a publisher, you may want to let them read the MS and ask them to sign a release.

That is about all you can do to protect yourself short of seeing a lawyer.

I hope this has helped. If it has, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 260+ questions.

And good luck with your book!  

Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]