The Perpetual Ambulance Chasers Convention
Think hard before you model a character's attributes after someone you know. Inadvertently, you are just leaving yourself wide open for a law suit. I don't have to remind anyone of the hardships most of us have experienced during this down global economy. Yes, there have always been ambulance chasers. But with so many people barely scraping by, it seems as if there is now a perpetual ambulance chasers convention being held in every town near you. Why would you make yourself an easy target for these lawsuit-happy opportunists?
In Legal Terms
The legal term is "libel." In plain language, it basically means the following: If a third party who knows the person suing you can make an obvious connection between that person and your written character description, look out. That obvious connection can be the basis for a libel lawsuit against you. That is, if your fictional character does anything the plaintiff deems personally damaging, you could be sued for character defamation.
Out of the Woodwork
Remember your childhood friend? Her husband could get his secret gambling addiction debts paid if he convinced her to sue over your successful novel. Aunt Stacey is totally bonkers and borders on being psychotic, but she loves you. So you're tempted to throw her and all her craziness down on paper. Truth makes great fiction, right? For your own sanity and well-being, don't do it. Aunt Macey might not have the forethought to sue you. But her daughter might put her up to it. There's that vacation home she's always wanted. And remember old Mr. Jones? His greedy nephew has made the connection that you based a character in your book on his uncle. Your book is a lottery jackpot to him. Why take chances like this?
Don't Become an Unwilling Target
How can you avoid future legal entanglements over your characters? If you must model them after living people, drastically change the age, gender and race of the character from the real counterpart. Even better, throw in some uncharacteristic traits and lifestyle habits totally unlike that of the real person. There should be no obvious connection to any living person you know.
One Last Cautionary Note
If none of what I've mentioned has daunted your desires to write about a real person you know, I leave you with one last cautionary note. Perhaps you subscribe to the school that "any publicity is good publicity." You think that if someone sues you, it will make your book even more famous. That may be true. But the vast sum of money you spend defending yourself may well overshadow the dollars your little masterpiece generates. I believe the saying should be "any free publicity is good publicity." And lawsuits aren't free!
Are you with me on this one or against me? Leave me a comment and let me know.
About This Blog:
The Found in the Jewelry Box Blog is my attempt to teach others about the wonderful world of gems and jewelry, past and present. Please enjoy!