Sunday, February 20, 2022

Ripped and Exposed

“Ripped from the headlines” sounds sexy, but it has its dangers.  Overtly suggesting that there is truth to one's fiction can expose one to problems. Logically, the blurb "ripped from the headlines" seems to contradict the usual disclaimers about the work being a work of fiction, and any similarity to real persons and real events being coincidental and not intended.

Voice over commentaries in the closing frames of a movie are especially problematic.  Viewers assume that those voice-overs are factual, not an extension of the fiction.

 Jack Greiner of the law firm Graydon Head and RitcheyLLP uses a libel suit concerning the popular series Queen's Gambit as a hook to share some very wise and timely advice about getting facts right and accurate, and not mentioning real people.

Recently the Authors Guild forums have entertained with lively discussions about mentioning real people, and using real public figures in fictional circumstances. 

Mentioning a real person might add verisimilitude, but if one publishes something untrue and gratuitously insulting or even merely demeaning, they can sue if they are offended.

Politician-level American celebrities may not win in America; American public figures sometimes have to prove "actual malice", but lawsuits are never cheap and almost never a good use of one's time.

Another extremely interesting topic covered by Jack Greiner is 1st Amendment related, and this writer found it evoked memories of proverbs about barn doors and spilled milk.  Once one responds to a legal FOIA request, one cannot get a do-over if one omitted to redact information one (the one responding to the FOIA request) does not want to see published.

As for stories ripped from social media, that, too, can leave a writer exposed.  Legal blogger Kate Steele for the law firm Hill Dickinson LLP offers riveting commentary on an astounding case of libel and harassment over social media.

For an alien romance writer, or any other author of fiction, the old wives' advice is best, "if in doubt, don't".

On a positive note, this writer thoroughly enjoyed the movie "Words and Pictures", starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche about a published author and an artist who find themselves (double entendre intended) teaching Honors English and Honors Art respectively.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 

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