Don’t Invite Lawsuits by Real People Featured in Your Book! (Hint: You Can Still Be Sued Even If You Don’t Name Them!)

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Angela Hoy is not an attorney and nothing in this article is legal advice. If you have questions about the legality of your book (or lack thereof), contact an attorney.

Did you see the news last week about a libel lawsuit against a deceased author? A judge has ruled that the lawsuit can proceed but it now involves his widow. Aside from only publishing facts that you can prove beyond any doubt, how can you protect yourself and your family from these types of lawsuits?

We receive quite a few book proposals at BookLocker.com each year that are either memoirs, are other types of non-fiction, or are even fiction based on actual events. Every author who includes real, living individuals in their book or novel (whether they have changed those individuals’ names or not) should take every step they can in order to avoid potential legal problems down the road.

The good news is lots of people like being featured in books, even novels, and will be flattered, and happy to sign any release you give them. Unfortunately, there’s no way to obtain this type of release from people who may be angry by your portrayal of them in your book. For the former group, you need to have a notarized agreement from them to protect yourself. You never know when they might change their mind someday, especially if your book makes you rich!

If your book features real, living people, you should try to obtain a general release from each individual that absolves you and your publisher of any liability related to the book’s contents and, thus, avoiding future (expensive!) legal problems.

Below is an example. If you do this, you should have your attorney provide a release for your specific book.

SAMPLE GENERAL RELEASE

I, ____________________, being of legal age and sound mind, do hereby
release, acquit and forever discharge [AUTHOR] and the publisher and
distributors of the book, [TITLE], of and from any and all actions,
causes of actions, claims, demands, damages, costs, loss of services,
expenses, and compensation, known and unknown, or in any way growing
out of the references made to [SUBJECT'S NAME] in [BOOK TITLE]. I
confirm I have read all passages that name or reference me in [BOOK
TITLE] and I approve and/or agree with the publication of these
passages and references.

I, the undersigned, hereby declare and represent that I rely wholly on
my own judgment, belief, and knowledge of the nature, extent and
duration of any possible personal injury and I have not been
influenced to any extent whatsoever in making this release by any
representation or statements regarding any injury or regarding any
other matters, made by the persons who are hereby released, or by any
person or persons representing them.

This release contains the entire agreement between the parties hereto,
and the terms of this release are contractual, not a mere recital. The
undersigned further represents that I have carefully read the
foregoing release, knows its contents, and signs the same as my own
free act.

In addition, I, the undersigned, am advised that, should I have any
questions about my own legal rights or responsibilities, I should seek
the advice of an attorney of my own choice.

Date:__________________
Name:____________________________________________
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the party has signed this agreement on the date
opposite her name.
Dated:________________
SUBSCRIBED AND SWORN to before me this _____ day of [MONTH], [YEAR].
Notary Public for [STATE]
My Commission Expires:

If you can’t obtain permission from individuals featured in your book, you should anonymize not only the individual, but also the location, circumstances and anything else in the book that may lead even one lone reader to figure out who that person is. For someone close to you (or formerly close to you), that may even mean you will need to write under a pseudonym so individuals who know you won’t be able to identify the person you’ve portrayed in a bad light in your book.

For more on that, please see:
Don’t Invite a Lawsuit with Your Memoir

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About The Author

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Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).

WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.

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