Legal Tips from Helen Sedwick

How To Use Real People in Your Writing (Or as Truman Capote said “

Scarlett Johansson won a defamation suit against a French writer for creating a promiscuous character who happened to look like the movie star. A Georgia jury awarded $100,000 to a woman who claimed a character in The Red Hat Club falsely portrayed her as an "alcoholic S***." Writers face three big risks when using real people in their writing: defamation, invasion of privacy, and misappropriation of the right of publicity. Yet every fiction writer bases characters on real people. Memoirists and nonfiction writers identify people by name. How can writers use real people in their work without risking a lawsuit? It's not that hard. Common sense and a cool head are key. First, let's start with a quick summary of United States law. (The laws of other countries are more favorable to the targets. In today's Internet environment, you could get sued in France for a blog written in California.) DefamationTo prove defamation, whether libel for written statements or slander for spoken ones, a plaintiff (target) must prove all of the following: False Statement of Fact.   If a statement is true, then it is not defamatory no matter how offensive or embarrassing. Opinions are also protected because they are…

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One Photo is Worth a Thousand Dollars

  Everyone else does it--downloads an image from the internet, pastes it on their website or blog, and moves on, ignoring or forgetting they are using someone's property without permission. You tell yourself no will know and no will care.But perhaps a little voice in your head is warning you that someday you'll get a nasty lawyer letter demanding a thousand-dollar payment for one casually-posted photo.The little voice is right.Thanks to improving technology, your chances of getting that lawyer letter are going up. Reverse image search engines have made images as easy to search as words. Photographers, artists, and stock image companies use TinEye to scan the internet for infringing users.But it's fair use, you argue. You are using the image for non-commercial, educational, critical, or commentary uses only. Maybe yes, but do you want to fight that fight with Getty Images or Reuters News or Rupert Murdoch?If your website or blog has images plucked off the internet without permission, then take an hour to clean it up before you get the lawyer letter. The process is easier than you think.Delete the Images. This is the simplest way. Remove unauthorized images with a few clicks.However, if you want to continue…

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