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Using Famous Names and Proper Nouns in Fiction

Categories: Copyrights.
Q: In a work of fiction, what restrictions exist on using the names of professional sports teams, TV networks or real people (e.g., the Los Angeles Dodgers, FOX Network or Rupert Murdoch)?—Jeff Stanger

A: If your character is a Dodgers fan or loves watching FOX news or happens to walk past Rupert Murdoch on the street and notices that he’s taller than he looks on television, you generally won’t have Alan Dershowitz calling for your head. You can use these well-known proper names in your text as long as you don’t intentionally try to harm that person’s or product’s reputation.

Normally you won’t catch much grief for writing neutral or positive words about real people, places and things. It’s the negative press you provide that could be considered trade libel or commercial disparagement—both ugly phrases that could cost you plenty of cash in a court of law.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Friday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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6 Responses to Using Famous Names and Proper Nouns in Fiction

  1. j t hall says:

    My lead character says she feels she’s in the “Omega Man” movie. Can I use this reference? it’s the only time it’s mentioned.

  2. AC Elme says:

    I’m concerned about the legal aspects of writing my memoir. If I change the names of family members, can I still be sued for using their character representations in my book? I get along well with most of my family, but if my stepmother reads the book and sees how I have written about the abuse she imposed on me, she will try to sue. Can she do so even if I change her name?

    AC Elme

  3. Is it possible to cooyright a novel when it is partly finished?

    If so, how would I go about this.

  4. Pauline Hawkins says:

    In the novel I’m working on, my character appeared on a morning show. I’m using Good Start America as the name of that show. Should I use a real morning show or is creating a similar but fictional show okay?

  5. Bruce Bailey (Edward B. Bailey) says:

    Do you think there are now any players who would have the impact that Joe DiMaggio did in Hemingway’s "The Old Man and the Sea" when the old man tells the young boy "the Great" DiMaggio’s father was a fisherman.

  6. Bruce Bailey (Edward B. Bailey) says:

    Do you think there are now any players who would have the impact that Joe DiMaggio did in Hemingway’s "The Old Man and the Sea" when the old man tells the young boy "the Great" DiMaggio’s father was a fisherman.

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