Jury Says Fictional Character Can Be Libelous
from the that-doesn't-seem-right dept
Plenty of fiction authors base their characters on real life people. But, perhaps they need to be more careful. A jury has ruled in favor of someone who claimed libel against an author for supposedly writing a character “inspired by” a former friend. That former friend was not happy about the portrayal, in which she was a “sexually promiscuous alcoholic.” This seems like a really bad precedent. Fiction authors quite frequently take people from real life, but then exaggerate them to extremes. But if that opens them up to potential libel charges, that seems quite ridiculous.
For example, I once read a book that had a character that was based on my father, written by someone who knew him many, many years ago (in the copy the author sent my father, it was inscribed with my father’s name, followed by the character’s name in parentheses). It was entertaining, to me, to see such a character who certainly resembled the rather content, laid back, unflappable nature of my Dad… except at the end where the character went crazy and had to be locked up. That, clearly, did not happen in real life, but it never struck me as “libelous.” It was obviously just a fictional story, where the author needed the character to do something and act in a certain way. That’s why it’s fiction. Besides, for it to be defamatory, you have to be able to show the harm caused, and that’s only going to happen if a lot of people know that the character is supposed to be the real person, which seems unlikely in most cases. In the meantime, though, if you’re writing a fictional story, be careful who you base your characters on.