Fiction inspired by actual events; When does admitting = liability

Not asking for a legal commitment opinion, but rather if some one has had similar experience...

Hypothetical: You've written a book that was inspired by a real situation. You have standard disclaimer that all is fiction and any resemblance is coincidental. You know that an individual in the actual life situation is lawsuit happy.

The question is; in promoting the story, how far can one going in acknowledging the origin before being liable, if liable at all?

Thanks for any input or thoughts.

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That is very, very sticky...

The fact of the matter is that every story --- is in part based on exaggerated truth. The lunatic aunt, the two sheriffs killed next door etc.

I would not admit to too much because the whole thing could blow up in your face. You could admit that you knew of a similar situation to your story but didn't actually remember it until later and then changed it to meet your needs as a writer.

In reality there is nothing "new" its all just re-written, or re-told in a different way and the imagination is the limit.

There are all kinds of legal ins and outs to be considered. If the person who suspects your story knows it was based on their truth and you admit it...they could possibly sue you for slander or whatever they can come up with. The disclaimer protects you to some extent but it of course it depends on how much you've changed the story and was it enough to be considered fiction.

Law and Order does this every week.
And they've been sued.
Unless you're very specific, I don't think you have too much to worry about. My understanding is that someone could sue for defamation, but to do so they'd have to prove that the character was very obviously based on them (to the point that someone who knew them and read the book would easily recognise them as that character) - and more importantly that they'd been defamed by the association. Basically, would it be libel if you wrote it as nonfiction and gave real names? If you make a real-life murderer into a fictional murderer, for example, I can't see you'd have a problem. Someone can't sue you just because they see themselves in the book: there has to be unfair damage to their reputation as a result.

To be on the safe side, ask your publisher.
I wouldn't worry. There is no copyright on someone's life, just a right to have their reputation protected. Most characters are a mix of people we know.

W.P. Kinsella, in the book Shoeless Joe, included J.D. Salinger as a character without his permission, and he was named as such, and he was a major character. When they turned it into the film Field of Dreams, J.D. Salinger objected saying that the book was one thing, but a Hollywood film was an intrusion too far, so they agreed to change the character for the film, and he became the Thomas Mann character, played by James Earl Jones.
The thing is... For public figures - like the Kennedy's the law is different because they are in the public eye. They have to expect a certain amount of criticism, defamation etc. So unless it is harmful to them individually they really can't do anything. Now, for individuals who are not in the public eye... they have the right to sue and win for something more minor than what the Kennedy's would be able to.



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