I am writing a novel that contains spy elements. Although the plot is based in the near future, it alludes to recent past historical events. Specifically, it discusses the 1985 'Year of the Spy' and its implications. Mole hunts resulted in the arrest of many of our own officials and case officers. Both the CIA and FBI had been infiltrated at the highest levels by double agents. Deep moles sacrificed lower placed agents in order to continue their treacherous usefulness to the Soviet Union. I discuss one in particular, Edward Lee Howard, who is the only known American to work for both the CIA and KGB. His defection to Russia and mysterious death are themselves worthy of a novel. At one point, Clinton planned to have the CIA abduct him using an editor, who was also a CIA analyst, help Howard prepare his own biography that was later published. Howard was reported to have died in 2002 in Russia under very mysterious circumstances but his body was never recovered. Are their any legal restrictions in mentioning famous historical persons or is the author forced to fictional the name and actual historical facts to prevent being sued?


  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a legal question, not a writing question.If you are worried about being sued, you should not take advice on the internet, you should consult a lawyer.
    – user16226
    Jan 15, 2017 at 15:53
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    I have an editor friend who just sent me links saying that it is there is no issue: writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/…. I am willing to answer the question myself if you wish to close it. Jan 15, 2017 at 16:41
  • @RichardStanzak - Throw that out there as an answer as it perfectly does the job. Jan 15, 2017 at 17:58
  • @MarkBaker : As far as I see, legal questions have been ruled on-topic here. The matter can certainly be reopened, but at the moment, they're on-topic.
    – Standback
    Jan 16, 2017 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


A very good editor friend gave me this link and she is very attuned to issues of this type: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/legal-questions/is-it-ok-to-write-a-fictional-story-about-a-historical-character :

Here is a summation if you don't care to follow the link:

"You can write about historical people because the two main legal areas you need to worry about when writing about real people—defamation of character and invasion of privacy—only apply to living people,” Cook says. “The deceased’s heirs cannot sue under those causes of action either.”

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