4

I've read many novels involving characters working at the NASA, Vatican, Secret Police, high government officers (Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson for example) and doing stuff that I wouldn't like being made public if it was about me. (even though this is fiction)

Is writing "This is a work of fiction, all characters are fictitious...etc." enough although you're talking about them working in a real entity?

Does it depend on local laws and needs lawyer advice? (I haven't noticed any particular disclaimer in Dan Brown's and Stieg Larsson's works) Dan Brown also goes as far as saying that "All the organizations [...] in this novel exist".

2

Most big organisations like the CIA, NSA, if they were to sue anyone who wrote anything bad about them, would have to spend their entire yearly budget every month just suing people. Besides, in a democracy, they can't really silence you unless you are writing something that affects national security, and in many cases, not even then. As @One Monkey mentions, you are more at risk from being sued by individuals.

Just write what you want, don't worry about offending anyone. Unless you live in North Korea of course. Never, ever, insult the Fearless Leader Kim Jong II. :)

5

Say you write a story about an employee of Best Buy who accidentally kills his girlfriend by pushing her off a cliff whilst the two of them are dancing about like idiots stoned out of their gourd.

Would you really expect Best Buy to sue you because you painted a picture of a Best Buy employee getting stoned and committing manslaughter?

The disclaimer is more than adequate in these cases as far as the organisation is concerned.

In fact the disclaimer exists for the following reason:

Imagine that your fictive BB employee was called John Larsen. Now imagine that a real Best Buy employee called John Larsen picks up your story and reads about himself getting stoned and accidentally killing his girlfriend. John's been married fifteen years has two kids and is a member of the temperance society. So that people don't confuse real John with fictive John you put the disclaimer in. The organisation has nothing to do with anything, it's individuals who could conceivably suffer a tarnish on their reputation because of unfortunate coincidence that the disclaimer exists.

DISCLAIMER: Both John Larsens in my example are entirely fictitious I have never been in a branch of Best Buy let alone met any employees of said company whose name was John Larsen. Best Buy, on the other hand, really exists to the best of my knowledge.

See?

  • 1
    This makes sense. But this is specific to 1 character and what he does in the novel with no relation with the shop. What if Best Buy engages in some illegal activities (in the novel), tax escaping, selling stuff from countries using child labor for example and they're put to court. It doesn't work with Best Buy because it's a private entity and I would just create another brand in the novel, but what about the NASA for example. They fake a report about UFO sighting, human experiments...etc. Does the disclaimer work because in the end it's the work of 1 fictitious character? – user2061 Jun 18 '11 at 11:29
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One Monkey and Shan are right, that there are tons of novels/movies where entities like the CIA are the bad guys. Unlikely that someone will sue you, or even can. Right of free expression and stuff like that.

But, because both gave the advice "write what you like and only care about the individuals", I have to step in. That could be bad advice. Especially if you leave governmental entities behind, heading towards companies and trademarks.

Well, guess what, IANAL. But there is a lawyer out there, writing about the trademark topic. This is off-topic to your question, so I keep it short:

Disparagement means to place the product or service in a “bad light”. You should not disparage a product or service unless you are writing a non-fiction critical evaluation of the product or service.

  • Yes, if I had to deal with individuals, companies, industries, I would just "create" them, not use existing ones. I was more worried about government entities. – user2061 Jun 19 '11 at 2:59
  • Some governments took the novel 1984 too literally, but not so much to actually feature a Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth. Fiction is creative, so be creative - you never know, entire governments could be formed using your ideas. ;) – Erik Westermann Jul 4 '11 at 15:15
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Do you mean NSA (National Security Agency) or NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Eh, doesn't matter. The United States doesn't have a "Copy Right" on any product of any agency or agencies themselves. They might not like certain stories about their agency and may not offer to help out with the big budget blockbuster if the film is critical of the military or your name is Michael Bay (Most of the military equipment used in the Transformers live action films and the soldiers featured in the background are U.S. Military equipment and personnel. Movies and shows that portray the military in a good light can apply for Pentagon Backing where they will charge the production company for the cost of the use of the vehicles but will do it in the most authentic way possible. The reason most of the villains in Bay's films are also U.S. Military vehicles is because Bay basically convinced them that the villains wanted the most bad-ass Earth vehicles and the U.S. Military was the obvious source for that requirement.).

Generally all Three Letter U.S. Government organizations will be available to critique as will most Western Liberal Democracies governments. The more testy governments will just ban the books from sale in the nation.

The Vatican is a legitimate country, so they cannot be off limits either and like you pointed out the Vatican Archives are the stuff of fictional legend (The real archives are more mundane than the Hollywood version... usually they are off limits for preservation of documents from the earlier part of the church's 2,000+ year history).

Secret Police tend to vary between fake and real, because fictional nations give some countries Secret Police when that real world country doesn't have such an organization.

Generally, fiction depends a lot on who is the hero... If the Leader is going to be involved, it will usually be a fictional leader unless unavoidable (The Queen of England is usually Elizabeth II, but the President of the United States is usually always fictional. The Pope is always the Pope and always Italian (even though there hasn't been an Italian Pope since the Mid-70s in real life... the last three were a Pole, a German, and an Argentinian. Though prior to those three, the Pope was Italian.). Fictional U.S. Presidents tend to be pretty moderate, though they can also be reflective of the current sitting president or a favorite historical one.

If their appearance amounts to stock footage (ala Forrest Gump) then use the historically appropriate one.

Anyone directly involved with the agencies will usually be fictional representations (unless it's J. Edgar Hoover, and he was in charge of the FBI at the time). Though mimicking real historically famous employees is always an option.

  • I'm pretty sure that you meant fictional, not frictional, US presidents, so I just went ahead and edited. Feel free to roll back if it was intentional, but in that case, you might want to make it clear so as to avoid future, similar edits. :) – a CVn Feb 19 at 20:29
  • @aCVn: Thanks... I can't type today. – hszmv Feb 19 at 20:35

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