As an Intellectual Property solicitor (currently non-practising), I'd be interested to get some answers to the following:
Has anyone ever had any legal concerns/queries about their writing (such as copyright, defamation, or other intellectual property concerns)? If so, what were your concerns? What sort of thing would you like to know more about?
Examples may be use of quotes, references, fan fiction etc.
My current novel is based on a painting by Caravaggio and I want to use a copy of the painting found on Wikipedia within my book. I’ve read the guild lines for using Wikipedia photo’s of paintings and as the painter is deceased there shouldn’t be a problem. In my acknowledgments I’ve mentioned the recourses I’ve used for research etc, including Wikipedia. Is this sufficient? I would be grateful to hear your views on this. Thank you.
Thanks for your comment! I hadn't even thought about copyright application outside of literary works i.e. the use of art within a book. That's so interesting.
As mentioned to Michael above, unfortunately I'm on sketchy ground (insurance wise) providing you with any direct advice on here. Instead, I was hoping to gain some insight into the type of problems authors may face with IP law, with a view to creating some guides/articles addressing those issues.
Copyright guides are top on the list though, so this will definitely see some coverage. I'll also note down this specific problem and ensure it is addressed somewhere! I'll post on here as and when such resources are complete.
Something that I encountered with my debut and have subsequently come across with loads of other authors is awareness of just how much it will cost to use lyrics in novels! I had to strip out so many lyrics from my debut...
Hi Beatrice, you would need to licence each one in the case of publication, and as Jon says below, each region/country will need to be licensed for. It gets very expensive, and sadly listing out the name of the copyright owner doesn't cut the mustard. I wish! In some cases, a publisher might go halves on the cost but that's rare...
I get more worried about mentioning a living person. I read Red Sparrow and Vladimir Putin was a character, I am not sure I would be comfortable about that. Also, any reference to a small or identifiable place. I tend to set in a big city or an anonymous town if I can. I just do not want to give a hint of sending someone up, as some people take offence easily.
That’s the thing that interests me. If you reference a real living person there is always the (quite high) possibility that their recollection of events is very different to your own. I often wonder how people get away with writing memoirs when the “baddies” are still around in real life. I am too much of a wuss. I would be concerned about offending people even if they didn’t sue me! That’s why I stick to made up people and made up places. Some of the people I’ve met through my work are fascinating and I often have that “you should write a book” comment thrown at me but in reality I would worry that however much I changed names and things there would still be enough for someone to recognise themselves and take it as a breach of confidentiality (I am a doctor, confidentiality is the boss).
I also hate offending people. It is safer to have composite people, drawing from more than one person, and making sure that details are radically different from reality. I am sure that doctors do write up case studies. There must be a standard of anonymisation that is used.
Referencing real people in fiction is certainly tricky, and you'd have to pay close attention to avoid defamation. Amending significant details often helps. There have been many characters throughout history 'inspired' by real life public figures, but without enough concrete similarities to warrant any legal action.
For memoir the best approach is by trying to seek the permission of those you are writing about, and allowing them to read the section concerning them and seeking their feedback. You can then work with them on any bits they refute, and ensure there are no nasty surprises for anyone on publication! Otherwise, you are best to omit, or to change names/places/details so significantly, they won't be recognised by anyone.
As for referencing small, identifiable places, JGrove, if the mention is in passing/neutral/complimentary, then most businesses would likely be pleased for the free advertising! The issue would come if you were writing negatively about them, or misrepresenting their business in any way. So probably be best to save negative descriptions for fictional places.
If you were unsure, the best approach is often just communication. You'd probably find a small business like a cafe or pub would be thrilled to be mentioned in a book, and would happily give their permission (again, providing it's a neutral/positive description).