For my current work in progress I’ve chosen a real life event as background: The Eurovision Song Contest. I’ve attended one of those contests in 2013 and decided to pick that particular event as setting.
The question for me was whether to use the actual people and celebrities who were present and performed in the show as characters in my novel or not.
If you watch shows and programmes like “South Park”, “Ab Fab” and “Tracey Ullman” they all use known celebrities and poke fun at them. It seemed silly to make up countries and singers when using the real ones gives a much more realistic flavour and the opportunity for insider jokes.
So I’ve started contacting agents and managers of said people to ask formally for permission. Not that I thought they could refuse me, after all I’m offering a very benign portrayal of said celebrities, nothing like the kind of thing they are used to from some publicly screened comedy programmes.
Sadly I was refused permission by the people I’ve asked so far, which was surprising but of course is fair enough. I won’t to do this against their will and have to come up with alternative solutions. I’m just wondering how the TV shows get away with it, who I doubt have permission for some of the more outrageous and often even insulting programmes.
Use of celebrities in fiction and non-fiction is a wide field:
There are plenty of authorised and un-authorised biographies out there, papparazzi sell and publish photos of celebrities left right and centre against their will and many comedy shows imitate celebrities – so this refusal makes little sense.
I understand that using a celebrity is taking advantage of their status to sell my books.
Celebrities are brands, so they want to keep control over it.
I naturally respect the decision and see their point but it naggs me a little that TV Shows and newspapers get away with so much and Inot even with this little.
Shouldn’t libel, slander and defamation of character be the red line?
I’m not going to risk a law suit and instead take on the challange to change my stories to fit the legal framework. It might even be a blessing in disguise!
Back to Europe!
Here’s some further reading on the issue:
That is an interesting issue, Christoph and I’m sorry about the refusals. (The cynical in me thinks that if it had been somebody whose’s association they thought they might profit from, it might have been different). I assume bit TV channels and certain programmes will have large legal departments to advice them on what they can and can’t do, and perhaps some kind of agreement with agents and public figures. The line between freedom of speech and libel, slander and defamation might be a very fine one indeed. But it seems that sometimes even negative publicity, well, is publicity. If the programme is considered a parody or humorous, it is difficult to attack (I guess it makes the person look dull and a bad sport).
In many cases, I think people don’t think about it or aren’t even aware of the issue, and unless the book makes it big, they are unlikely to come to the attention of the interested parties (unless they truly are trying to use them to sell the book).
An Spanish author contacted me about a translation to English and told me that it wouldn’t be very hard work as she had used the lyrics of many songs in their original English. She mentioned some very famous groups and singers and I asked her (just to check) if she had permission and she told me she had checked with a writers’ organisation and been told it was not necessary. I shared a few articles about it and told her they were wrong. I sent her in a panic and no, I did not end up translating the book as she realized she would have to either rewrite it, or seek permission (and I could not see it happening).
I’m sure your novel will be great but it is a pain. I imagine they could not prevent you from taking about it if you wrote a memoir… Now, I’m not sure either.
Thanks Olga. I’m sure I would probably get away with it. A waiver and careful blending of facts from the public domain with obvious fiction would be possible but now that I have to rewrite the draft anyway to eliminate a few celebrities I’ve got some great ideas. In an obscure way I satisfied my personal need to write the story as I wanted to and feel free now to go with some necessities and accept the challenge from it. And I don’t have to be overly polite to all the celebrities anymore, so that, too, opens new doors as some are closed on me.
Hope you’re having a great Monday ❤
D. Wallace Peach said:
Interesting post, Christoph. I don’t run into these challenges as a fantasy writer, but I can see the draw in contemporary stories to use the real names of people, businesses, and products. It happens quite a bit, and I suppose those authors could face lawsuits. You did your due diligence and I’m glad you’re able to work around it.
Thanks Diana. ❤
Claire Fullerton said:
I know you’re a good enough writer to create a riveting story, whether you use living people or make them up. Probably best not to take a risk. But already the story is captivating!
Thanks Claire ❤
Teagan Geneviene said:
Hmmph… Their reaction is interesting. What happened to the old adage “any publicity is good publicity”? The technical aspect of this project is really interesting, Christoph. (I already know your book will be great. That’s a given.) 🙂 Looking forward to hearing about the behind the scenes progress. Hugs on the wing.
Thank you Teagan. Have a fabulous Monday ❤
Carol Lovekin said:
I’m sure you’ll navigate your issue – shame though – it would have been cool! And you raise an interesting point regarding the casual use of real celebs names & so forth on TV…
I’ve recently had to delete a quotation from the front matter of my new book because it’s not covered by copyright. You can use the *title* of a song but not *extracts* so, the extract had to go. It’s too risky. The norm in the music industry is for a flat refusal on song extracts & no explanation.
Thanks Carol. I’ve heard about the restrictions imposed on song lyrics and didn’t even go there, despite it being a song contest. It’s really gone OTT imho. I know stealing lyrics is a big problem and I have sympathy for the industry but it seems take too far.
Have a fabulous Monday ❤
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Mary Smith said:
Interesting post about an issue I’ve never thought of. Good luck with your project.
Felipe Adan Lerma said:
Reblogged this on Felipe Adan Lerma and commented:
An author’s thoughts on using real folk in his fiction – interesting comments as well! 🙂
via author Christoph Fischer
Felipe Adan Lerma said:
I’m definitely any more than an “I think this is so” in re to using real brands / folks in fiction, but 🙂 I’ve read and think if something is obvious satire, that’s permissible.
Also titles of songs are ok.
I’ve often liked when I saw a song title mentioned in a book, esp when I was familiar with the tune, or the title gave an easy or immediate insight into the moment in the story.
The other thing I’ve like, and thought of trying myself, but haven’t seen much of in fiction, is the narrator’s or character’s (via deep pov) sensation in response to the music – not just as making onself feel better or peppy etc, but like (top of my head) – “…the drums rolled inside my chest and my heart pounded back.”
Either way, sounds like you’re have fun Christoph, and I’m looking fwd to seeing the new book 🙂
T. R. Robinson said:
It may be worth asking a lawyer/attorney/solicitor about this. I believe there is some leeway when it comes to ‘public’ figures and information that is already in the public domain. The participants and events of Eurovision obviously fall within those categories. I am not a lawyer but have, from time-to-time read bits about public domain issues. You could probably do some research for yourself before paying any legal consultation fees.
Thanks. That’s good advice. Various laws could apply, although “the public domain” helps me a lot. I still prefer to go down the route of getting permission and use those characters only.
T. R. Robinson said:
Quite understand. All the best.
Very interesting points Christoph, about obtaining rights and wondering how others get away with it. But seriously, I wouldn’t worry if I were you because you have a wonderful imagination. When I think about the animated characters you portrayed in Body in the Snow, I should think you’d have no problem creating new ones. And who knows, maybe one day someone will be coming to you asking for permissions to use YOUR characters! ❤
Thanks Debby ❤
Update: I now also have some friendly permissions and some rejections did come indeed from agents, not the celebrity themselves.
Re-drafting starts tomorrow 🙂