I am planning on using a real bar in a coming novel.  I would prefer not to change the name of the business or alter its description because I feel it gives very interesting color to what I am writing about.

There is just one scene where the protagonist and a character sit on the veranda, sip beer and talk.  Nothing negative happens or is said about the business.  In fact, compliments about the establishment and also it's food are mentioned.

Is this OK?   

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Get written permission or change the name in the book.  Not worth the possible hassle.  What you and I might see as a positive statement might be seen in a different light by their lawyer.

What makes you think this would be necessary?  Did a lawyer say this?

Brian, thank you for your feedback. 

Written permission would probably be impractical because #1. There would be no incentive for a business owner to sign it.  #2. It would still probably not protect you from anything in the novel that the owner interpreted as negative.

Because the area I write about is so small, changing the name would still not hide the identity of the business.  I believe using real locations, when there is no negative content, helps cement local fan interest and loyalty.  I need that for a springboard.

I always assumed that as long as there was no libel, slander, etc. it was ok to use a real location.  I think I've read it many times.  Oddly, "Breakfast At Tiffany's" comes to mind.

Thanks again.

I think you're ok as long as nothing negative is said about the business.

To quote my old journalism prof, "Anyone can sue you for anything."

Just because what you write is fiction and/or flattering to a business, that business can still sue you. I could sue you. Captain Crunch could sue you. Doesn't matter if you have a disclaimer at the beginning, permission from the business or an act of Congress. None of that prevents a fruitless lawsuit from taking place. You might be in the right, but you might also go broke defending yourself.

What are the chances of any of that happening? Close to zero. So don't worry about it.

P.S. The conditions for proving libel usually include knowingly publishing false information as true. If you're writing fiction, libel is difficult to prove, since the plaintiff would have to show malice.

Slander involves spoken words. Research your local libel laws. I think you'll find that because the business is open to the public, you have more protection to write about it. Were it an individual's house, that could be a different story.

Shouldn't be a problem, Jed. Probably the owners will be happy to be mentioned in the novel. Readers also like that sort of thing, because it orients them to the action in the book.


Thanks, Chuck.  That's my thinking too.

Thanks also to I. J. & Benjamin.

I don't see how anybody can sue you for using a location.  You read about people going into Macy's or Bloomingdales,  Breakfast at Tiffany's, etc.   I just read something the other day by Carl Hiassen, saying there's actually a marina in Florida where Travis McGee lived.  

I see bars in Key West mentioned in a lot of stories, and spots in New Orleans, too.  

I've been in places with frames on the wall bragging about being in some film or novel.

I just can't see how this could be a problem at all.  

Thank you for the feedback, Cammy.

You are right, I think.  The general consensus seems to be as long as you don't say anything negative about the business you're probably on solid ground.  Anything negative, depending on degree, you might have a problem.

Frankly, I wonder about that, too.  I don't have the legal experience to say (and I get the impression that there really aren't any hard rules on defamation suits, or any lawsuits because juries are weird) but I doubt you could be sued for saying Chipendales is messed-up or Bloomingdales sucks.

I do know one thing from a legal hassle of my own, that I won't get into: defamation has to meet some criteria.  Has to be openly uttered or "notorious"  (which a book would be of course).  

Has to be proven harmful.  Does me calling you ugly or fat or retarded actually hurt you?  

Has to be malicious, which means intentionally harmful, I guess.  Like maybe you publish that somebody is preganant or something, not realizing that it will get her in trouble because her husband is impotent.

Has to be false.  If I call you fat and you actually are obese, or if I say the restaurant was closed down twice a year by the health department and it's a matter of record... no foul.    

You're right.  I guess if you have to say something negative about a business, and possibly damaging, you better make damn sure it's true and well known.

In my own writing I never use a real business when I'm planning on saying something negative about the business or I am going to have a negative incident happen on the property.

free publicity is usually a plus!


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