The comparison to the celebrity ends with the name.

For example, there is a story about Jack and his dog. Jack decides to name his dog Elvis because he's an Elvis fan and is listening to Jail House Rock on the car ride home from the pound where he adopted the dog. The dog shares no other similarities to actual Elvis and no other comparisons are ever drawn in the book. Could this be an issue?

Elvis, we know, is a deceased musician. What if the celebrity is still alive?



I am not a lawyer, this is just my layman's understanding from reading cases. Consult a lawyer for a more definitive answer.

You have to worry about defamation. For example, if you name the dog after a living female celebrity (substitute Jane Doe for this discussion), and then your characters joke about "Jane Doe" being a bitch, a slut, a dick licker, she likes to smell buttholes: Then you are defaming the real Jane Doe.

Even though you claim it is a work of fiction, even if you claim it was all in good fun and even the character's were joking.

You cannot "trick" your way through some technicality into being able to defame a living person by disguising the defamation as jokes or "about somebody else". If a jury concludes what you did would appear, to any reasonable person, to be intended to defame the real person, you have defamed them. Whether you think it was a joke or not. The same goes for disclaimers: Say all you want that nothing in your book is intended to defame anyone: It won't make a difference. There is not magic get-out-of-jail-free paragraph or claim you can make.

Maybe you can get away with stuff like that if you have lots of on-staff attorneys on staff, like certain TV broadcasters do. I wouldn't try it.

The only reason I can think you would want to do that is to make a joke about the real celebrity, or draw some comparison between them. Generally, since readers would understand that comparison, you are talking about the celebrity so they may have standing to sue you. Even "one name" celebrities that are widely recognized (Cher for example) might convince a jury you could only be talking about them, especially if a comparison was made. Finally, being complimentary in the comparison is not a defense.

If no comparisons or references are made, use a different name. Respect the celebrity's ownership of their name, brand, trademark, and public recognition.

  • Legally there's more leeway than this implies; but you can still win a case and lose money overall; or worse, get a judge/jury who doesn't like you and you lose and lose hard. Proving yourself to be correct and right can be more costly than avoiding the issue all together. Essentially, the justice system can be like a game of chicken. You want to avoid it if possible. Therefor, using the names of real people that are alive is risky. That said, it's probably easier to get away with than is implied by this answer; it's just the downside is incredibly steep if you fail. – Kirk Apr 2 '18 at 17:35
  • @Kirk Like any lawsuit, there is no guarantee, but the OP question was "would there be ANY legal repercussions." That is unanswerable, no telling, but I read that "is there a possibility of legal repercussions", and that is definitely Yes. The celebrity can sue, and many have, just to make the point of punishing anybody that uses their name to make money for any reason, and because they are multi-millionaires that can afford it, and cost the author many thousands of dollars defending themselves. And some have won millions for similar scenarios. – Amadeus Apr 2 '18 at 17:56
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    I agree entirely with the sentiment of your answer; Enterprising individuals may recognize consequences/issues are nuanced. You're entirely correct that the result is not predictable. So at the end of the day you have to decide why you're doing it and whether it's worth the cost. Does the possibility of a legal battle exist? Yes. Is it guaranteed? No. There's a lot of moralizing that can go on in this space; but I like your answer because it is clear that even if you think you have the high ground you can still get dragged through a morass. Sometimes there's value in that; for most, not. – Kirk Apr 2 '18 at 18:23

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