“Can I use the name of a real building / mall / hospital / etc. in my novel?”

“Can I use the name of a real building / mall / hospital / etc. in my novel?”

Q –

Angela,

In my book, I am using the name of an actual hospital. Strange goings-on happen at this hospital. Should I make up a fictitious hospital?


A –

I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Please consult with your attorney for any specific legal questions concerning your book. 

That said…

Years ago, one of our authors used the name of an actual inn in his town as the setting for his horror novel. The book is called THE INN: A Cocoa Beach Ghost Story and it is entirely fictitious. The author not only obtained permission to use a real business in his horror novel, but the business also, in good spirit (pun intended), purchased copies to place in each room of the inn. They also sell copies to guests. So, it’s a profitable partnership for everyone and the ghost story probably drives business to the inn.

However, that is a special case. What if an author does not obtain permission, and what if his or her novel actually harms a business?

What if you include a murder in the hospital you’re writing about? Most hospitals are private entities (not owned by the government). If I have two hospitals in town and I think there was a murder at one of them, I might believe that 1. that hospital has bad vibes or evil in it and/or 2. that hospital has horrible security. If I needed care, I’d be going to the OTHER hospital in town.

So, to answer your specific question, NO, do not include that hospital in your book. Sure, you can ask them if you can but, I promise you, they’re going to say no.

Let’s think of another example. Let’s say an author writes a novel about a suicide pact in town where young people are flinging themselves off a particular well-known building – a  building that is privately owned, and that houses many local businesses. Can you imagine the number of lawsuits that would be possible in such a scenario?

Another author might write about a terrorism plot at a local mall. Some people are simply dumb (I’m not going to sugarcoat it), and believe that everything they read is true. That story might frighten some people out of visiting that mall in the future, harming the mall’s owners, as well as the retailers with businesses inside.

Unless you can work a mutually beneficial deal with a local business (like The Inn example above), and have an attorney draw up paperwork to protect you from any and all liability, do NOT use the names of real buildings, malls, hospitals, businesses, etc. in your novel. Doing so not only will not help sell more books, but it may also bankrupt you in the end in legal fees and judgements.

I’ve actually heard from authors who wanted to use a real name/business/location in novels to later “surprise” the individual/business when they find their own name (or the name of their business) in the book. Yes, as ludicrous as it sounds, some people really are THAT stupid.

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