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Writing Books/Disclaimer/permission


Dear Nori,

I'm writing a fiction novel about a real place.  It's a bunker that was decommissioned by the Canadian military years ago and turned into a privately funded museum in 1999.  I'm assuming that the museum's new name is copyright-protected so I've avoided using it in the story.  

My concern, however, is that at least a third of my story takes place inside the museum (I used to live there) and I'm not sure if I need permission to use it as a setting. The place is far too unique to just change a few particulars and claim that any similarity is purely coincidental.  I really don't want to ask the curator about using the place, out of fear that she will tell me that I can't, based on her own preference.  She has already told me that she wants "to control what's being said about the bunker", regarding an unrelated issue, so I don't anticipate that she'd want a fictional story being written about the place.  I'd like to know if I have a legal right to use the premises as a setting for my story, without approaching them for permission.

The Relic, by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston, is a fictional story about a monster living in the bowels of the New York Museum of Natural History.  They even used the real name of the museum in their story.  Their disclaimer reads as follows:

“This is a work of fiction.  All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously.”

Would a blanket disclaimer like that protect me in Canada?  If you're unsure, do you know what area of law this falls under?

Thank you for any assistance you can provide.



Dear Brenda,
Thank you for your letter. I'll give you my opinion, but I'm not an attorney and am not familiar with Canadian law. You might want to run this by an entertainment attorney at some point.
Normally, you should be able to use any setting you want in your story. I live in Los Angeles and there are countless novels set in the famous landmarks here. I'm sure many mysteries play out in the hills around the Hollywood sign, or in Griffith Park  Observatory, or the sky scrapers of downtown L.A.
As far as I know, you don't need permission to write a story set in any location.
Legally, you should be covered.
However, if you use the location to make a political statement, the people who own the place have a right to complain, and may do so when your book comes out.
Say, for example, someone did a story about child abuse in the Catholic Church and set it in the new downtown L.A. Cathedral. If they make up a fictional story about the place it could be read as an accusation.
So you have to make sure that the story you tell is not libelous or slanderous. That could create legal problems.
You can write anything you want, but you could have problems when you try to get it published. If you find a publisher they will run it by their attorneys, hopefully, and vet it. However, they may not be able to vet it if the story has covert allegations.
Anyway, who can resist a decommissioned military bunker? Great setting for a murder mystery or action story.
I hope this helps.

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Nori J. Muster


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