PUBLIC FIGURES AND LIBEL: “I want to write a tell-all book about a celebrity I once knew. Can a public figure sue me?”

PUBLIC FIGURES AND LIBEL: “I want to write a tell-all book about a celebrity I once knew. Can a public figure sue me?”

Q –

I grew up with someone who is now a well-known celebrity. I want to write about a book about this person and it won’t be flattering. He can’t sue me and win, right, since he’s a public figure? I’m certain he will sue and that’s okay but I need to know that I’m going to win. And, my publisher will have to pay my legal fees and any judgment against me if he does win, right?


A –

I’m not an attorney and this isn’t legal advice. You need to consult with an attorney looooong before you spend time and money on a project like this.

While your book might be juicy, and might sell some copies, you might want to reconsider. If these incidents happened years or decades ago, what proof do you have that they actually occurred? If the court battle turns into a he said/she said type of scenario, you might lose. And, I suspect juries might be more inclined to side with a celebrity rather than with a celebrity’s childhood friend who chose to capitalize on their past friendship and, in the process, betrayed that old friend.

How much money do you have in the bank? If you’re sued by a celebrity, he or she likely has far more money than the average person and they can spend more on legal fees up-front. You could go bankrupt in the process…long before you ever step foot in the courtroom.

While it’s true that celebrities have a tougher time in these types of lawsuits, they can win and the damages can be astronomical. There’s a great article on this topic RIGHT HERE.

I’m sorry but your assumption that a publisher will foot your legal bills made me chuckle. First, a large, traditional publisher has fact-checkers and legal departments. Unless you have proof of all the incidents that you claim occurred, they aren’t likely to offer you a publishing contract, especially if you’re not a well-known author or celebrity yourself.

Publishing services that self-published authors use to publish their books are, for the most part, exempt from legal liability for libel, defamation and invasion of privacy because the manuscripts are not vetted for legal liability. Those firms are simply used as a printing and distribution service by the author to get their book on the market. The exception, based on a lawsuit against one large publisher, is when the firm knew up-front that the book might contain legal liability issues.

You might be tempted to profit from publishing a book based on a past relationship but the money, stress, and time involved, to say nothing of the harm to your own reputation in the process, probably won’t be worthwhile in the end.

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3 Responses to "PUBLIC FIGURES AND LIBEL: “I want to write a tell-all book about a celebrity I once knew. Can a public figure sue me?”"

  1. Jenean MczBrearty  April 6, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    Of course ANY writer with a bombshell story should see a lawyer, and this isn’t legal advice, but…actually, people can say just about anything about anyone and get away with it. There are affirmative defenses that are unassailable: truth (and that means YOUR truth)…for example, I know this person smoked dope because we did it together; opinion…for example, in my opinion, this person treated me like a piece of crap and I think that stinks… And in the interest of public service. For example, I was there the day Joe was convicted of child molestation, so beware of Joe. Also, how “judgment proof” is the writer? He won’t be thrown in jail, so if he has no assets (and if he does, judgments can be written off in bankruptcy! and the person would be an unsecured creditor at the back of the line), you can’t get blood from a turnip. The question of good taste and whether the writer wants to get a reputation for as a blabbermouth is another story. Who wants to be friends with a blabbermouth? Not me. Unless someone messes with me or my family. You only have to read social media to know people get away with just about anything. So, CAN he write it? Of course. SHOULD he? That’s a personal/moral decision only the writer can make.

  2. pamelaallegretto  April 6, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    Wonderful explanation! I hope the person writing this question heads your sound advice.

  3. Lucille du Blanc  April 6, 2018 at 4:01 am

    Sometimes I wonder at what motivates people to write in the first instance.