I’m glad I’m not Gregoire Delacourt, just now
It seems Scarlett Johansson was named in his latest novel, La Premiere chose q’on regarde. I haven’t read the novel. There are amoeba on Saturn that speak French better than I do. But apparently it revolves around a woman who looks like – and is mistaken – for her. And Johansson, it is reported, objects. As in, there are lawyers involved.
So can writers get away with naming real people in their novel? The actual answer from me is ‘I am not a lawyer, go and see one’.
However, as a writer I’ve had to make myself familiar with the principles, and bearing in mind that these do NOT constitute legal advice and should NOT be relied upon, I’m happy to share them.
There are, indeed, legal complications in naming real people in fiction.
But as I understand it, a lot depends on purpose. Apparently if a public figure such as a movie star is named, incidentally in passing, there is not a lot they can do about it.
If, on the other hand, the book pivots around them in some way – well, apparently, it’s possible to act on it.
Occasionally, an author names a real person by way of apparent revenge, as when Michael Crichton supposedly fictionalised a critic in a thoroughly unflattering way.
The usual issue facing authors using real names is defamation. And certainly in New Zealand, defamation law does not require proof of intent. The danger? You create an utterly unsympathetic character, lob a name at them – and find out post-fact that there’s a real person of the same name out there who objects. It’s possible. That’s why movies usually have disclaimers about characters not resembling any living or dead person.
It’s why it’s usually better to give your characters names like – well, how about ‘Ftumch’.
(Ten points for anybody who can spot the reference…anybody…?)
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013