Many people read fiction stories or watch television shows to take a break from reality for a short time. Unfortunately for some individuals, a fictional piece of work can feel all too real. It's not unusual for writers to base fictional characters on real people, but can you sue the creator if his or her depiction of you is defamatory? You can, but it may be very difficult to win the lawsuit. Here's what you need to know about this issue.
Characters vs. Real People
There are two major elements involved in a libel-in-fiction case, and you must prove both elements to be true to win the case against the defendant. The first hurdle you must overcome is showing the character in question is supposed to be, or at least modeled after, you. Additionally, the resemblance must be strong enough to make the character identifiable as a real person and not just a figment of the writer's imagination.
For instance, an attorney sued the creators of the show Law and Order because of an episode depicting a character with a similar name, nationality, appearance and profession as him. The episode aired a few months after the plaintiff was in the news because of his connections to a lawyer and a Democratic assemblyman who were both convicted of several crimes. The episode in question also involved judicial corruption.
The plaintiff argued his personal characteristics were unique enough that anyone watching the episode who was familiar with the scandal that occurred the previous months would connect the fictional character to him. The judge in the case agreed and denied the defendant's motion to dismiss.
However, this element isn't always this easy to show. Sometimes writers make so many changes to characters that it would be very difficult to connect them to real people. The greater the number of differences between you and the fictional character in question, the harder it will be for you to prove to the court the writer was talking about you.
The second challenge with litigating this type of case is showing the statement or characterization of the fictional person in question is libelous or defamatory. Libel is legally defined as a false written statement that damages a person's reputation. In the context of a fictional piece of work, this may be statements about the character by the narrator or other fictional person's in the work. It may also be considered libel if the character engages in acts the real person would not. For instance, the character cheats on his or her spouse in a book. However, the real person didn't or wouldn't engage in that type of behavior.
To win on this point, you must prove the character's behavior or statements about the character are false. If the character does something that you would do (good or bad) or the fictional person is not shown doing anything improper at all, then the judge may deem you don't have sufficient evidence to support your libel claim.
Another issue you may run into is the work of fiction may be deemed too fantastical to be believed. If the character behaves in such an extreme manner it would be hard for a reasonable person to believe a real human would behave that way or the work itself is so full of hyperbole that a reasonable person wouldn't take it seriously, then you may lose the case because anything the character does couldn't readily be attributed to you.
Libel-in-fiction cases are notoriously difficult to litigate. Consult with an attorney about the merits of your case to determine the best way to proceed. You can click here for info on a particular law firm.Share
19 July 2016
When my husband filed for divorce a few years ago, I knew that I didn't want to endure a legal battle on my own. I interviewed several different attorneys until I found one that I really liked, and then I really gave my case my all. I had long talks with my lawyer about everything from financial problems to the way that we organized our schedule, and she was able to create a rock-solid case from my statements. This website is all about the importance of communicating effectively with your attorney by making the right decisions. Check out these posts about lawyers so that you are better prepared for your next case.