I was wondering about how much freedom a writer has to refer to real people and places in a fictional work and in what situations it's best to get permission or avoid it altogether.
I do know that the chances of these people/place representatives even reading the reference are very slim, but in theory, let's say you ended up writing a best-seller, what would happen in these situations:
Designer Brands. I image that "she wore a Gucci dress" is clearly not an issue.
How about if your hero drives a Mercedes that has engine failure. In theory, could Mercedes have an issue with that or is that just highly unlikely?
I imagine referring to public national parks is not an issue.
How about if the Plaza Hotel in New York is the perfect back-drop for a scene. Nothing negative is written about the hotel. We just know the scene takes place there. Should you get permission to mention them first, or is it not necessary? Is it best to just not give the name of the hotel to play it safe?
Imagine your character is a university professor at NYU. He teaches English Lit. and Gender Studies. Let's imagine that NYU wouldn't allow a professor to teach two subjects like that. Could they take issue with the idea?
I imagine mentioning Google, Google Map, Hotmail and things of that nature is perfectly fine?
People: I know you can mention a famous person in a novel, but what about if you added a negative spin to that person:
E.g. You're acting like Oprah Winfrey on crack.
He looks like Bruce Willis without the creepy stare.
She looks like a skinny Rosie O'Donnell.
All these Hamptons housewives are on Ritalin. All these Wall Street bankers are on coke. (not famous but about a set group of people)
How about if a character has "had way too much Botox and looks like a frozen mannequin". Could Botox take issue, even though this is a common complaint about how certain people look?
How about if a character takes a prescription drug like Ketamine or Oxycodone "which turn him into a lazy, dysfunctional asshole". Could the pharma company that owns the drug take issue?
Yes, I know that the chances of a book being successful enough for the parties in question to even know about the reference to them are very slim, but any feedback from writers/copy-editors with experience in this area would be greatly appreciated!