“Can I base my fictional character on a convicted criminal?”

“Can I base my fictional character on a convicted criminal?”

Q.

Angela,

I know you’re not a lawyer but I have a question.

What liability would an author face basing a fictional character on a living politician who committed crimes, admitted to them, was punished by a judge in a court of law (thereby making it a matter of public record), and then served jail time for those crimes?

– P.

========================

A –

DISCLAIMER: Angela is not an attorney. The information below is not legal advice. It is based on stories authors and attorneys have shared with Angela over the past 18 years.

If you wrote an article or even a non-fiction book detailing his crimes and convictions, assuming everything you wrote was true (based on the evidence, recorded testimony, and the conviction), he probably wouldn’t sue you.

If you fictionalize his story, he definitely can, especially if details of the crimes or anything else were changed. And, yes, even if you don’t use his name, if he or anyone else can make the connection, he can sue.
Here’s an example. Everybody knows about OJ Simpson and the white Bronco. If you wrote a book about a disgraced sports star who (allegedly) killed his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and who had a bloody glove incident, and who was convicted, but you added a piece to the novel about him crashing his Bronco into a crowd, and hurting or killing some people, he could sue you for that part of the crash part of the book because people reading the book would know it’s OJ Simpson…and some might believe the part about the Bronco crash. That, of course, would harm his reputation further than he’s already harmed it himself.

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