Monday, September 01, 2008

"Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental."

This I don't get.

Why do fictional works so often have a disclaimer to the effect that "Any resemblance to actual persons -- living or dead -- is purely coincidental."? Especially in cases where it's clear it isn't true?

Are there libel issues?

It seems inherently disingenuous (since fiction is always based to some degree on the author's experiences, see edit your life), and also unnecessary -- since calling something "fiction" means it isn't meant to be an accurate retelling of real people or events.

Am I missing something?

10 comments:

The Exterminator said...

Ahh, you've forgotten about names of characters. Naming a character always opens a writer up to libel (even though it may well be a frivolous suit). So if an author wrote a novel about an axe murderer whom he or she just happened to name C.L. Hanson (purely by accident), you could, conceivably -- and if you were a big enough asshole -- sue the writer for defamation. You probably wouldn't win, but think of what a pain in the ass and expense that would be for the author.

By the way, if you want to hear an odd coincidence: In my novel about a teenage prostitute from Mars turned fundy missionary in China, the main character's name is C.L. Hanson. Isn't that weird?

Joe said...

It's about libel and story rights. (Though I doubt it has much real legal efficacy.)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Exterminator!!!

Wow, that sounds like a fascinating novel -- I'll have to get a copy! :-P

Hey Joe!!!

Ah, story rights -- I hadn't thought of that. So if the Exterminator happened to be friends with someone who really was a teenage prostitute from Mars turned fundy missionary in China, then she could sue him for fictionalizing her story if she was hoping to sell the story herself...?

Otherwise, normally I would think it would be OK to admit to having gotten the inspiration for some details from real life as long as you're clear that the fictional character isn't meant to be any one real-life person...

v_quixotic said...

In Oz, we've just seen the South Park episode where Britney Spears blows off half her head with a shot gun and survives only to be subjected to death by paparazzi and thereby fulfil her destiny as a pagan harvest sacrifice...

So I reckon full speed ahead and damn the lawsuits! After all is there such a thing as bad publicity?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey V_Quixotic!!!

So true!!! But I think the rules may be different when it comes to celebrities and public figures.

Tom Clark said...

It's gotta be about liability. You know how sensitive we all are to having the truth told about us.

King Aardvark said...

There's one way to find out: you've gotta write a story containing a real person's name and back story, and put in a disclaimer saying that certain characters are based on real people, and see what happens.

King Aardvark said...

Note: that is not real legal advice. Follow at your own risk.

;-)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom and King Aardvark!!!

I'll be careful. ;^)

Hellmut said...

Apparently, Law & Order has been successfully sued for libel.