Author Topic: Can a religious organization sue for deformation/libl in the US named in fiction  (Read 1171 times)  

Offline Decon

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I've tried researching this, but all I can find on the internet is individual rights to sue a church for dismissal. When I say deformation, I could mean lible. Not sure of the distinction, but lible has these elements. Publication, Identification, Harm and Fault.


I could have my own answer when I consider The Catholic Church's depiction in Dan Brown's Book, but I'm wondering how far you can go in fiction.

Mine is a chapter set in the future after a disaster in the US with completely fictional characters of an existing church organization. Basically, the church will create secession of a state from the US and enact laws that would currently be forbidden under the constitution and federal law, and would probably be frowned upon in the here and now.

Your thoughts.

Note: Please, I don't want answers to be of a contentious religious nature.




 
« Last Edit: July 10, 2020, 02:43:35 am by Decon »


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    Offline IndieEuroAuthor

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    Disclaimer: I am a Catholic.

    It really depends on the religious organization or cult.

    You can remain pretty certain that the Catholic Church won't sue unless you are being pretty egregious.
    I am pretty certain this is also the case with mainstream, liberal leaning Protestant denominations in the US.
    If you identify any particular baptist/evangelical church they *might* want to sue you. Depends on the particular church really.
    If it's a nut case cult, then yes, you can remain pretty certain that they will sue you especially if your book starts to garner some attention. Church of Scientology especially is notorious for harassing opponents using frivolous lawsuits and they can be very vicious, so depending on the organization in question, you should proceed with caution.

    Keeping in mind that in the US a lawsuit doesn't need to be legally valid. A lot frivolous lawsuits are filed by rich organizations and individual just to harass and shut up their not-so-rich opponent.

    Note: As far as I know, fiction doesn't inherently give you the right to have a free run while using REAL identities of specific persons or organization. Though of course, you have a lot of freedom and latitude in the name of artistic freedom. So again, it really depends on the organization and how far you are willing to push it in your story.

    This is my personal opinion. I am not a lawyer and this should not be treated as legal counsel.



    Edited. Drop me a PM if you have any questions. - Becca
    « Last Edit: July 10, 2020, 01:33:13 pm by Becca Mills »

    Offline Dayseye

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    Points to consider.

    Dan Brown had an established publisher behind him, with all that entails. According to Wikipedia, "The Da Vinci Code" attracted strong criticism from the Catholic Church, who urged members to boycott the film. That didn't end well for Father Ted and the Craggy Island boys, and doesn't appear to have worked in real life either.

    However, when it came to portraying the church as the bad guys in one of mine, this indie played safe and invented a splinter group. If yours is set in the future, your splinter group could feasibly have grown to dominate the established, or original, religious organisation.

    Offline Doglover

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    Libel is written; defamation (I think) is the same as slander, i.e. spoken.

    Ever seen Dave Allen? A wonderful Irish comedian who used to take the pee out of the Catholic church in hilarious sketches. I heard that the Pope loved him.

    However, Religion, no matter which one, is not a commercial organisation and cannot lose money through anybody's opinion. Many people say bad things about all religions and nobody gets sued, but that's just my opinion.


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    Offline Decon

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    According to my research, I can't find that anything related to lible in fiction has been determined by the supreme court, but that many have in lower courts relating to fiction, though at a very small percentage of the total

    It's quite a minefield really, with so many legal opinions in cases, though it does say it is rare in fiction unless you name a real person in a derogitory way. In one case it thrown out against fantasy fiction author on the basis that they are obviously fiction stories and characters. In others the disclaimers in copywright have been upheld and in others discounted.

    In my case it's a future scenario in fiction in which the Mormon Church plays a part in Utah seceeding from the Union after a disaster in the future. I don't name any names that are currently connected to the church leaders, so Im hoping it will be okay. Cant find any cases where they have sued anyone, only the other way around.

    « Last Edit: July 10, 2020, 08:17:35 am by Decon »


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    Offline Marian

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    I want to make this clear: I am not a lawyer.

    That said, every author should be aware of what is called a "Slapp lawsuit." If any religion, individual or business takes offense at what you have written or decides that what you have written is damaging to them, they can start a lawsuit against you. These lawsuits may be without merit, but they can bankrupt the writers being sued, who must respond in court.

    Wikipedia defines a Slapp lawsuit as: A strategic lawsuit against public participation is a lawsuit intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. In the typical SLAPP, the plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit.

    https://anti-slapp.org/what-is-a-slapp

    https://www.acluohio.org/slapped/what-is-a-slapp-suit

    Offline Fogeydc

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    (also not a lawyer....)

    From my trusty dictionary
    (& you can find the same info online, e.g. at nolo.com)

    defame: to harm the reputation by libel or slander

    the way I always remember which is which is --
    libel is legible (i.e. written)
    slander is spoken

    And don't forget -- in the USA, at least, it seems that anyone can sue anybody for anything (some people are famous for doing this). It may get thrown out but in the meantime it's not fun (or cheap) to be the target.

    There are actual lawyers who specialize in IP (Intellectual Property).


    Offline Decon

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    Thanks for all your replies. I've made a few subtle changes after research and feel I'm okay with it now. Regardless, I'm a man of straw anyway and they would have to travel far to find me, lol. I'll publish eventually and be damned, or not as the case might be.

    Actually, it reads more as a future they could aspire to rather than taking offence at that would cause them harm, but it's a strange world, so who knows.


    Sorry about the pre edit errors, predictive text playing havoc
    « Last Edit: July 10, 2020, 07:46:14 am by Decon »


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    Offline vagabond.voyager

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    Libel is written; defamation (I think) is the same as slander, i.e. spoken.

    Ever seen Dave Allen? A wonderful Irish comedian who used to take the pee out of the Catholic church in hilarious sketches. I heard that the Pope loved him.

    However, Religion, no matter which one, is not a commercial organisation and cannot lose money through anybody's opinion. Many people say bad things about all religions and nobody gets sued, but that's just my opinion.

    Dave used to end each show by saying: "If there really is a God, then I hope that he has a sense of humour."

    Offline Doglover

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    Dave used to end each show by saying: "If there really is a God, then I hope that he has a sense of humour."
    Yes, and that was almost as funny as the sketches. Great comedian, much missed.


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    Offline Sam Kates

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    Used to be a lawyer, but not any more and not here to offer legal advice. But I do know the difference between libel and slander. Put simply, the former is defamation in some sort of published form, whilst slander is spoken defamation (that's not recorded in some sort of permanent format such as an audiobook, which would be libel). Defamation is the generic term for untruths designed to harm a person or organisation's reputation.

    Anyone in any doubt as to whether they are about to defame someone should really seek proper legal advice from someone qualified to give it. That advice might cost a pretty penny but it's likely to be far cheaper than having to defend a libel suit.

    Online Paranormal Kitty

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    Anyone can sue for anything, but if they didn't sue over The Book of Mormon then I doubt they would sue you.

    Offline Decon

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    Anyone can sue for anything, but if they didn't sue over The Book of Mormon then I doubt they would sue you.

    That's good to know. I'll look up that book.


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    Online J. Tanner

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    Anyone can sue for anything, but if they didn't sue over The Book of Mormon then I doubt they would sue you.

    Beyond that, when I went they had purchased a full page ad in the program.
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    Offline vagabond.voyager

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    Anyone can sue for anything, but if they didn't sue over The Book of Mormon then I doubt they would sue you.

    Not everywhere. In some demographics, a case has to have merit before being allowed to proceed. That was introduced to stop frivolous lawsuits.

    Offline Doglover

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    I cannot see how you can defame the Catholic Church. It doesn't matter what anyone says about them, they will lose nothing by it.


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    Offline Dayseye

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    Dave used to end each show by saying: "If there really is a God, then I hope that he has a sense of humour."

    That he may have said. But he ended all his shows by raising his glass and saying, "Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you."

    Sort of hard to argue with that sentiment, and typical of the man's charm.




    Offline jdcore

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    The organization (Opus Dei) that didn't sue Brown did sue a game maker, so I guess it depends on how offended they are and how weak they see you as a target.

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/opus-dei-sues-danish-game-maker/news-story/5d3f163f68df55fe97f1d8460473cd60

    Online Cecelia

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    Religious freedom generally goes hand in hand with freedom of speech and some other human rights, so churches generally accept some criticism/representation in fiction or media as the price of being well known.

    That said, if I was to have a villainous organisation, or even a congregation harbouring a villain, I might give it a generic name.

    Offline isaacsweeney

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    I say, write what you want. Be true to your story. Then ask for forgiveness, not permission. But people on here think I'm going to get sued by DoorDash, so there's that.

    Offline Doglover

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    I say, write what you want. Be true to your story. Then ask for forgiveness, not permission. But people on here think I'm going to get sued by DoorDash, so there's that.
    Well, you're not cos you haven't published it have you? You didn't use that name in the end, did you? Or did I miss something?

    Most of my books are set during the reformation so they are all anti-catholic. Perhaps I'm not famous enough to get sued yet.


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    Offline unkownwriter

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    Also not a lawyer, but I think you'd probably be okay with the situation you described. It's fiction, set in the future, not naming anyone or anything current, and it would be hard to prove any harm came from it. Of course, in the US, at least, you can pretty much be sued for anything, by anyone. You'd probably win, but how much would it cost you?

    It's defamation, by either the letter (libel) or spoken word (slander). To be sure you're in the clear (as best as possible), you need to consult with an attorney with experience in these matters.

    Offline notjohn

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    In the US, anybody can sue anybody for anything, and probably has.

    I'd especially be wary of defaming the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose record for wins at the Supreme Court is so far total.
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    Online telracs

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    Just a point of information---
    The "Book of Mormon" referenced in an earlier post probably is meant to refer to the Broadway musical.  Which was written by the creators of South Park.

    Online J. Tanner

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    Well, you're not cos you haven't published it have you? You didn't use that name in the end, did you? Or did I miss something?

    You only missed the elephant. Check his sig. It's been published since before his first post about it.
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