CELEBRITY NAMES IN FICTION?

OldguitarI’ve just spent an hour or so researching the legality of using celebrity or famous names in a fiction novel and there seems to be many schools of thought on the subject. In “White Wolf Moon” I referred to many famous people but only as references to a specific conversation, much the same as if I mentioned to a friend that I’d just heard the new Maroon Five song on the radio. According to one article this is okay as it would come up naturally in a real-life conversation. Could these famous people object? Of course they could but unless you slander or tarnish their image, why would they? I can’t see Yoko coming after me because of my comments about John Lennon in WWM:

“So Lennon and Dylan influenced you?”

“They influenced everybody, more so John Lennon with me. He was the word-meister. He could play with the English language in a way that I’m not sure anyone else could in both his books and music.”

I have shown Lennon in a good, if not admiring light, so there could be no reason for her to object. Plus I imagine John is mentioned in countless writings every year so she probably wouldn’t have the time to pursue each one.

This subject came up because of my sequel. Part of it is more of a prequel as I refer back to Edmonton based rock groups, artists, and clubs of the Sixties:

Evan snapped the clips of the beaten case and arched his back. “Either of you heard the new Lords single?”

Danny nodded. “Yeah, “Blue”. Pretty cool track…sounds a little old though, not 1967.”

“That’s not the point…it’s on the radio…they’re on the radio and we’re on our asses waiting for those other two idiots to get here. The Nomads just put out a “Hits” album, Barry Allen’s on every bloody radio station, Willie and the Walkers just got signed to Capitol…and we’re on our asses waiting.”

Jack tapped the high-hat. “I think it sounds pretty new…almost has British feel to it. It’s nice to see local guys making it, y’know?”

Again I see no reason for objection. Everything I mention is real, musical history in fact, documented all over the web, and could reasonably be part of a real conversation.

If I say “Joe Celebrity was hooked with a DUI as he left a house of ill-repute” then sure, sue me…especially if it’s an unfounded statement. It’s slander, plain and simple, and everybody has the right to fight that one. But if I casually drop in the fact that “Joe Celebrity donated half his concert earnings to local charities” why would Joe object?

Celebrities are more of a “brand” now and perhaps this muddies the water because most “brands” generally don’t want you using their name without compensation. “Cola” is fine…“Coca-Cola” could get you in trouble (if they chose to pursue it).

The few court cases I’ve found lean toward the author citing that the celebrity is, by the nature of his/her career, a public figure and in fact seeks publicity. (These cases were regarding books, not checkout mags.)

I guess it really comes down to how would I feel if I opened a book and discovered I was referenced as part of the story. I don’t know. Depending on how I’m depicted I would have different reactions I suppose but honestly…I’d probably be flattered.

But then I’m not Joe Celebrity.

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