Author Topic: Using real life university as a setting?  (Read 907 times)  

Offline schweinsty

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Using real life university as a setting?
« on: April 20, 2016, 06:31:59 pm »
Quick question, if anyone can help me out: I'm writing an urban fantasy, and my main character's a professor at a university. I was wondering as to the legality of using an actual public university as his specific workplace (UT San Antonio, to be precise), or whether I'd be better off just leaving the precise university to the reader's imagination/making up a different one. The university isn't a major setting, and I don't say anything bad about it*, but I'm wondering if I could open myself up to legal problems if I name it outright.

*Well, I at one point have the character complain that his office is too small, but he's also shown to be a major book/tchotchke over-collector, so it's hardly a cutting insult.

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    Offline Iain Ryan

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #1 on: April 20, 2016, 07:05:24 pm »
    The book I'm about to release is set in a real university but about 20 years ago. I didn't name the place but it's a one university town, so I didn't have to.

    I feel like this falls into the category of if you're paranoid, leave it out. Universities are run like banks these days.

    Personally, I'm waiting for a takedown before I worry about this. And my main character works at a notorious McDonalds just off campus. I left that in. If the book ranks in the top 100, I'll slide in and change it to McDougals.  8)

    Offline schweinsty

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #2 on: April 20, 2016, 07:11:25 pm »
    The book I'm about to release is set in a real university but about 20 years ago. I didn't name the place but it's a one university town, so I didn't have to.

    I feel like this falls into the category of if you're paranoid, leave it out. Universities are run like banks these days.

    Personally, I'm waiting for a takedown before I worry about this. And my main character works at a notorious McDonalds just off campus. I left that in. If the book ranks in the top 100, I'll slide in and change it to McDougals.  8)

    Thanks! Yeah, I'm pretty paranoid, so I'm leaning towards being vague. I can think of four universities in the San Antonio area off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are more, not to mention community colleges and such, so readers won't lack for options of what to imagine :).

    Offline Not any more

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #3 on: April 20, 2016, 07:59:15 pm »
    I use Colorado State University in one of my books and never worried about it. A lot of the book takes place off campus and I didn't use the names of any real businesses.
    This post remains on KBoards over my objections.

    Offline LectorsBooks

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #4 on: April 20, 2016, 08:03:19 pm »
    I'm pretty sure Rick Riordan's adult series had his main character as an adjunct at UTSA, at least for a little while. And Dan Brown's Robert Langdon is a professor at...Harvard? I think?

    I think you're fine, especially if you're not saying horrible things about the institution.

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    Online Becca Mills

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #5 on: April 20, 2016, 08:11:21 pm »
    One time-honored tradition is to base everything on a real school but to give it a fictitious name. So, every detail in your book may be drawn from UT San Antonio, but you call the school "South Central Texas Tech," or something. People who are very well acquainted with UTSA may recognize it, but no one else will be the wiser.

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    Offline Iain Ryan

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #6 on: April 20, 2016, 10:35:48 pm »
    One time-honored tradition is to base everything on a real school but to give it a fictitious name. So, every detail in your book may be drawn from UT San Antonio, but you call the school "South Central Texas Tech," or something. People who are very well acquainted with UTSA may recognize it, but no one else will be the wiser.

    Hampden College, Vermont is another example. Two bestsellers about it and everyone knows its Bennington.

    Online Crystal_

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #7 on: April 20, 2016, 10:54:39 pm »
    One time-honored tradition is to base everything on a real school but to give it a fictitious name. So, every detail in your book may be drawn from UT San Antonio, but you call the school "South Central Texas Tech," or something. People who are very well acquainted with UTSA may recognize it, but no one else will be the wiser.

    Hudson University on Law and Order SVU! I think it's Columbia though it sometimes seems to be NYU.

    Offline A. N. Other Author

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #8 on: April 20, 2016, 11:09:33 pm »
    Insert standard "not a lawyer disclaimer" here

    Pretty sure you're fine as long as you aren't doing anything that casts the university in a seriously bad light. Like insinuating the management would routinely cover up a crime due to being corrupt misogynists or devil worshipers or something. I guess it's like you can have someone work in McDonald's or Starbucks but if the story turns out to be a fight for workers' rights or railing against tax avoidance you might have a problem.

    Offline schweinsty

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #9 on: April 21, 2016, 09:05:30 am »
    Thanks for all the responses, guys! I've still got a ways to go on this novel, but I've got some great answers to mull over while I finish it :).

    Offline PhilipColgate

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #10 on: April 21, 2016, 09:09:42 am »
    I just read a book that had many scenes at Columbia University, including a violent chase and attack in tunnels underneath campus.  Further, the author is an alum of Columbia.  You're all good provided you don't write anything libelous about REAL people at the school.  Don't forget, we all have (or should have) that legal disclaimer in the front matter about "some of these places are real but are used fictitiously blah blah blah." 

    Offline meh

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #11 on: April 21, 2016, 11:27:27 am »
    TOS.
    « Last Edit: September 28, 2018, 05:49:40 pm by meh »

    Offline Hudson Owen

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #12 on: April 21, 2016, 12:32:08 pm »
    Hudson University on Law and Order SVU! I think it's Columbia though it sometimes seems to be NYU.

    I should charge them a fee for using my name with regularity.  If it's a famous school like Harvard, then use it.  If not, then the above holds true.

    Offline treesloth5

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #13 on: April 21, 2016, 12:50:46 pm »
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miskatonic_University

    Lovecraft made one up that's fairly well known for horror and fantasy writers. What you want to do with it is up to you. Necronomicon has found it's way into many works with Cthulhu. Why not Miskatonic University?

    Offline GeoffW

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #14 on: April 21, 2016, 05:14:51 pm »
    I use Colorado State University in one of my books and never worried about it. A lot of the book takes place off campus and I didn't use the names of any real businesses.

    DARN!  Was hoping I was first to use CSU : )

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    Offline KingSweden

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #15 on: April 21, 2016, 05:17:58 pm »
    In my police thriller "Primary Suspects," some scenes are set around the Greek system at the University of Washington in Seattle (of which I am a proud alum). There's a bit with fraternity corruption and a campus cop getting pressured to paper over an off-campus sexual assault, but I make it pretty clear that the university was uninvolved in any coverup.


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    Offline Alan Simon

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #16 on: April 21, 2016, 07:53:56 pm »
    "...Professor Kingsfield was the oldest active member of the Harvard Law School faculty."

    From the opening to The Paper Chase, the classic law school novel written in 1971 (and which later became a television series). Specific mention of Langdell Hall and other real-life Harvard landmarks.

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    Offline Annette_g

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    Re: Using real life university as a setting?
    « Reply #17 on: April 22, 2016, 01:58:02 am »
    Oxford University was used a lot in Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series. I mean, you couldn't really have a book set in Oxford and not mention the university, it would just seem odd. I think he did make up some various colleges though. A lot of murders for one University ;)


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