Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Question from the e-mail:
You were talking about copyrights the other day and that was useful, but my question is a bit different. I am writing a novel based on personal experience and it includes some not-so-nice actions by a former employer, a local company in the town were the novel is set. Everything the company does, they actually did. To me. Do I have the right to use the company name? The real town? How would you handle that?
At the risk of sounding like a wuss, I would change All the Names, People, Company, the Town. AND the STATE where it happened. Life is too short to spend money on lawyers and the time in court, even if you know you are right and have witnesses and evidence to prove.
If your book is about a fisherman in Chesapeake Bay, make him a fisherman in Tampa Bay, or San Francisco Bay. If your company is a tomato cannery and the only big business in Depression era Cambridge MD, take a page out of John Barth's THE FLOATING OPERA, and at least make it a Pickle Cannery.
Anne Lamotte, in her excellent book Bird By Bird, took another tack on the lawsuit question. She said if a named character would have a real reason to sue, she always gave him a very small penis. Few men, Ms. Lamotte said, would be willing to get up in court and swear to having that kind of penis, and if they did, you could always get a court order for a measurement. Now I’m not a lawyer, and this is NOT legal advice, but basically I believe no one can sue you for telling the truth.
Telling the truth, and getting up in court and proving that what you say is absolute fact are two different things, however. By all means write your book, tell your truth, but don’t put yourself in any unnecessary danger. Change the names to be on the safe side.