I recently re-read a story I did from 2012, and reading it cold made me realize how much I liked it. There was just one problem: the narrator mentions real athletes. Writing from an alter ego, in an obviously satirical way, the narrator goes to the London Olympics and tries to fuck all the athletes. I quickly realized that this may not be allowed, but to me it feels cheap--and has always felt cheap--to sub in obvious parody names, e.g., Beck Davidham, Hussein Volt, etc.

But my question arises from this: I have seen it done in other publications, albeit differently, where the writer speaks disparagingly of certain people. Hunter S. Thompson called the Minnesota Vikings a "gang of sick junkies" and that Al Davis had lost his mind, and these were in national publications.

In this story, the narrator simply describes what he would or would not do, sexually, to the Olympians; he never actually disparages the athlete themselves, except maybe to call Lolo Jones a cobwebbed virgin or that the entire gymnastics squad may be young, but not that young. He never even interacts with an athlete, as he gets lost from his hotel on his way to one of the Olympic stadia. It's all in his mind, but what's in his mind is of frank nature.

Obviously, this is a work of transgression. It is also obviously satirical. No person on earth would think this guy was real, or had even been to London. But does it have a place, today, in American writing? Can I get sued?

Coda: I sort of admired some of the old Russians who would simply put _______ in place of certain people or names, as Gogol did. I may do that, but it seems like such a cop out.


This is essentially a question of libel. Is what you say about these athletes libelous or not. The laws governing libel different from one country to another, so it is impossible to give a definitive answer as to whether what you propose is libelous or not. Also, libel is not in the general concept, but in the execution. You can only tell if a work is libelous by looking at the specific work, and then only really once a court decides the case.

But there is another impediment to publishing this kind of thing, which is known as libel chill. Publishers (and this includes companies that provide self publishing platforms, like Amazon) do not want to get embroiled in a lawsuit over a work that is probably only making them a few bucks at best. Therefore they are unlikely to accept anything that looks even remotely like libel, especially if the person in question is a famous person with a deep bank account and a large twitter following.

  • After studying libel for the past 5 hours, I've decided that what I wrote is not libelous. It is not "false or defamatory." It may be licentious, but it does not actually spread any sort of rumors about the athletes themselves, other than people fantasize. Thank you. – August Canaille Jul 8 '17 at 5:13
  • @AugustCanaille - unfortunately it's not whether YOU decide if it is libelous or not, it's what a court or publisher decides is libelous. There's also the angle that those real-life people feeling threatened or demeaned by your stories, as well. It's not just libel you need to concern yourself. What you've described can easily be seen as sexual harassment. – user18397 Jul 9 '17 at 23:52

In the U.S., "defamation" basically consists of an alleging (false) claims that can be taken as facts. This does not cover wishes or fantasies.

So "I wish I could sleep with Jane Doe" (a famous actress) is not "defamation." (Many men probably do.) But "I slept with Jane Doe" could be defamation (unless true).

There is one additional problem because your novel is set in, and involves citizens of Britain, where the defamation laws are much more in favor of plaintiffs. There, you might get into trouble for an exprssed "wish" if sued in a British court. These laws were basically enacted over the centuries to protect kings, high ranking nobles, and wealthy people in general, and may be enforceable even today.

  • It is just a short story, and no characters are citizens of the United Kingdom. I just mention mostly American athletes, and a few Czech ones. – August Canaille Jul 9 '17 at 13:00
  • @AugustCanaille: The chances are slim but not zero. Arab and Russian bad guys have gone to Britain to sue Americans just because 20 copies of an "attack" were sold in Britain. It's called "forum shopping. " Fortunately, the U.S. will not enforce judgments overseas that violate the first amendment.And only in Britain could you get into trouble for a "wish" not an act. Basically, rich people are invoking rights meant to protect the king. – Tom Au Jul 9 '17 at 17:22

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