Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fear of litigation

I had a strange encounter the other night. (This is nothing to do with boats or boating or canals by the way so you can clock out now if that is why you are reading these ramblings. Sorry.). Anyway, my old friend Hector was performing at a local folk night so we went along to show support. I took my smallpipes along and treated the thirty or so audience to a rendering of a tune called Hector the Hero. Appropriate I thought. People always let me play when I take the pipes along because it's something different. I'm digressing again, sorry.

After I did my bit, a lady whose name I did not catch, sang a couple of songs "what she had wrote" and mentioned that she had written a couple of novels. Now as regular sufferers of this blog will recall, I am in the process of penning a literary masterpiece myself, ( now at 49,130 words, so only 30,870 to go) , so at the end of the evening I accosted the lady in question to pick her brains.

Well I was a bit taken aback when the first thing she said was "Are you insured?". "Against what?" I asked, and she replied, "Being sued."

She insisted I change at least the name (fair enough) and preferably the sex (?) of any characters that might be recognised from real life and not to use the real names of any places or institutions that might get upset at what I write. I said the only place I had mentioned critically was Basingstoke, and even then only to express mild fictional surprise that one of my characters should want to go there. "Oooh change it", she said, "call it Fazingstoke or something or they could sue!"

I have, I recall used the trade names of certain types of confectionery, but only in praise. That's product placement isn't it? Maybe I should do a deal to write something like "He bit into his delicious satisfying Mars bar. Now he was ready to work, rest and play." You never know, I might get rich.

Blimey. It all seems a bit over the top to me. I wonder what kinds of book she writes. It sounds like she has upset somebody for sure. My novel is hardly Private Eye in terms of litigation risk, although one criminal in it is loosely based upon a probably innocent person I once met. Anyway, as a number of my characters are inspired by real life people, I did look through the book today and make a few subtle changes to anonymise some characters. You will be pleased to know however, that I have resolutely refused to rename Basingstoke.



Halfie said...

I wonder who she thinks the "they" are (or is) who might sue over a mildly disparaging comment about Basingstoke. I don't think you can libel a place.

Vallypee said...

A bit OTT indeed, Neil. Just write a disclaimer at the front of your novel telling the world that all your characters are fictional and any resemblance etc. I do that just in case, but place names stay the same except for the actual setting. Was she by any chance American…? You're going strong now! I'm looking forward to reading your debut work when it's finished!

Paul and El said...

Gawd my blog is a libelous minefield!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

As a writer and one who teaches writing courses for a university I can tell you she is correct about names of actual people; one need not change the name of towns though some writer's do to be on the safe side, especially if they are writing a story about nefarious deeds done in high places. For the use of actual products: if you refer to a character wiping their nose with kleenex for example which has become universally used in place of the word tissue, it actually needs to be capitalized and include a trademark symbol--
®Kleenex--otherwise the Kimberly Clark Company can sue a writer for unauthorized use of their brand. The same is true of ®Mars bars. I hope this helps and if I can be of any further assistance just email me. I am happy to help a fellow writer.

Rainman said...

Surely your publisher should advise and protect you. Much more worrying are the light-hearted comments in your blog which could be misconstrued. Or nicknames which could cause mental anguish.

Rick said...


Simon said...

On the other hand... Ian Rankin auctions (for charity, I think) the use of people's names in his books - think I read somewhere there's a real Ger McCafferty out there who paid handsomely to be included? ;-)

I'll put in a quid a mention to a charity of (our mutual choice) for every mention of my long-departed cats Baby & Bella.

But if it is at all negative, I'll sue! ;-)

************** Brian and Diana on NB Harnser******** Maps by said...

Dead easy just make sure the "Number Lock" is on then type "Alt0174" ® or "Alt0153"™
just lick degree is "Alt248" °