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I am gathering true stories from people I meet as well as my own. I have many stories that involve incidents that happen to other people. Some are funny, some strange or just mishaps. While some stories may be somewhat general (like Americas funniest videos when a persons pants fall down) others are are more defined and unique ( a persons pants fall down while not wearing underpants while giving a speach in church.) I plan to use fictitious names but as you see some can be very unique. My question is do I need any kind of release from the person telling me the story  or from the people that were involved?

Answer
Hello Gail:

It seems to me that your question involves issues of libel.

I am not a lawyer and cannot give you legal advice; all I can do is give you the benefit of my learning and experience. No doubt you are thinking, "If I publish these true stories, can I be sued or put in jail?" The answer is yes, and no.

First, you are always safe in stating FACTS. You cannot libel anyone by publishing facts. Those who get into trouble with the libel laws are those who publish untruths about someone else, ruining their reputations (causing them to lose money). What you must ask yourself is, have you told the truth? Can you prove you told the truth?

In your particular case, you are dealing with matters that might prove embarrassing to the source. I certainly wouldn't want it published that my pants fell down in church. Nor would you, I suspect.

Also, keep in mind that your opinions can be freely expressed - opinions are not libelous. If you say, "He was no good, lazy, and he drank too much," you are expressing an opinion. If you say he's an alcoholic when he has never
been so diagnosed, you might get into trouble, for you may be presenting an untruth as a fact.

Second, does the person you're writing about have a reputation capable of being ruined? Will what you have to say cause them to suffer a loss of respect among their neighbors, cause great emotional suffering or loss of
income? How else might they be harmed from this - are other people aware of their bad habits, or have they always been a secret? Remember, it will be their task to prove these things in court.

You have changed the names but is that enough? You could set the action in another city and/or adjust small details so that it becomes difficult to identify the person in question. Also, you can ask the sources to sign a release, but if you are going to do that, it would certainly be advisable to consult a lawyer to make sure the release would be binding.

I hope this helps. If it does, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 470+ questions.

And good luck with your writing!

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Susan Rand

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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 http://pygmypress.com, 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.

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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.

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BA degree in Written Communication

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