A small publisher has expressed interest in reading a manuscript of mine, but their request worries me a little. I received several pages of restrictions on persons, places, and products I shouldn’t use, and it seems far more restrictive than I was led to believe from working with agents and reading other authors.

A few examples”

Real people/club/group names need permission. Real people that are mentioned, used as a character, a group of people (a club), band, etc. requires permission. I use the late Tony Accardo in a scene described by a mobster fifty years after the fact. Is this a problem? I know of writers (James Ellroy comes to mind) who do this regularly. Considering what Ellroy has his “real” characters do, I can’t believe he got permission from the estate. I also like to use real musical groups when sending a character to a nightclub. (“They went to the Birchmere to hear Tower of Power.” Then describe a few tunes as background music.)

If you use a real town or city name. Every “real” name used (includes but not limited to) all businesses, places, schools, used as part of a scene or any action takes place in…you must have written permission.

Avoid using real street names if they can be connected to real places. Chicago is pretty much a character in this book. Changing the street and place names will detract from the color and setting of the book.

They also are particular about generic names instead of product names, even when a character may be using them. “Photocopy” instead of Xerox; “tissue” instead of Kleenex, etc. Problem is, many people use these in conversation. I’m concerned making things too generic will spoil some of the tone, and I know I’ve seen this done. I’m having a hard time believing so many written permissions are needed.

Are they just fussier than usual about this, or is there a whole level of permissions required I’m not hip to? I know a lot of Crimespacers use real locations and product names; am I just hopelessly naive?

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I'm with you on fairness. There are a couple of scenes that take place in mob-owned businesses, and one shooting in a restaurant. They are always fictional, and located either where there is no similar business, or where the location is somewhat ambiguous.
I think all of that protects them (and you) from being sued if you say something nasty about it. The use of current music requires permission from the band in each case. This can be costly. I would change business names, but not street names. I would get permission (or quote only what is permissible without). I would use alternates for brandnames. As for getting permission for using city names or real places in a city: who do you get this from? I think that's unreasonable. Your editor should alert you to possible problems. It's not a good idea ever to write negatively about real people, places, brands, etc.
I see I was coming in late on this when everybody had already spoken. Why not use common sense (keeping in mind the really tough music industry) and proceed the way you want. A disclaimer as Dan suggests should cover you.
This seems awfully restrictive to me. Brand names are often used in fiction, and as long as they're written correctly (Kleenix with a capital K), there isn't usually a problem. There's a reason why their association occasionally takes out ads in writing magazines asking writers to cite real products correctly. Ditto for real streets, which provide local color. I've used real locales in all my books and I've never had a publisher object. But it is common to need a release if you use a real person's name, even if that person begged to be included, or paid for it in a charity auction. I have a real person who helped me to proof the book who'll be appearing in my forthcoming REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES' SAKE as a character and she had to sign a release for my publisher. I don't know how it works with dead people - I'd assume you can use their names without permission. They clearly can't give you written permission. Tracking down heirs seems excessive to me.

I do have a friend, though, who planned to kill her victim with a machine she saw at a tea plantation. The book was well underway when she wrote to the company and asked permission to describe this machine in her book. They said they'd sue her if she referenced it, so she had to dramatically rework the book and make the murder entirely different. I guess in some instances you do have to be careful.


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