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I'm working on a nonfiction book and have told short stories about 8 different people. They include:

- Helen Keller
- Gandhi
- David Goggins (Navy Seal from the book Can't Hurt Me)
- Eric Greitens (Navy Seal, author, and former governor of Missouri)
- Louis Zamperini (WWII veteran in the story Unbroken)
- William Kwambamba (African boy who created windmill from scraps, in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind)
- Florence Chadwick (famous swimmer)
- Debbie Ford (Former cancer survivor & author of a book called Courage)

I want my book to include short stories I've written about these peoples' lives & accomplishments. Some of them are still living. Others are not. Does this make a difference in whether or not I can write about them? For what it's worth, the book title does not mention anything about these people, so I would not be using their names to promote my book. Can anyone provide suggestions? I want to make sure I'm doing this right. Thanks!

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Pretty sure it's completely legal, just as a journalist or historian can write things about people in the present day or history.

The key is to pay attention to libel and/or defamation laws in the markets you're selling in. The USA sets a high bar for libel or defamation suits, but the UK for example sets a lower bar--and some countries make it easy indeed to be sued for some form of damage to public image or whatever. That's really the key. I am not a lawyer, but I know of no case in which it's illegal on its face to merely write about someone. Plenty of tell-all books have been written without their subjects' (primary and lesser) consent, and there's little they can do except try to sue.
 

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Of course, it's legal to write about famous people. Open any newspaper, and you see it happening before your eyes. Unfortunately, the actual laws regulating public comment can be complicated, and they vary by country. My comments below apply only to the US.

The main protection for commenting on public figures comes from the First Amendment, which protects broad public commentary, particularly when the public figure has voluntarily attracted attention in the first place, like a politician running for office. The main restrictions in commenting on anybody are that you can't libel or slander someone, but the Supreme Court has made it almost impossible for public figures to win libel and slander cases in most instances.

The other main concern in writing about living people comes from laws intended to protect them from having their name and likeness used by others, particularly for advertising. But those restrictions are limited to living persons. And again, public figures receive much less protection of their privacy than private citizens.
 

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as always, not a lawyer so no legal advice.
Germany does not have a first amendment, but we do have something about the different rights of public figures versus private people.
Writing about them in general is fine as long as it is not fiction (then you get into a whole nother discussion), stay away from libel and negativity - and I would additionally check sites like snopes.com for certain types of stories.

This is the other key element:
For what it's worth, the book title does not mention anything about these people, so I would not be using their names to promote my book.
There are likely laws all around the world for not benefitting from other people's work and if you where to use them in your blurbs for marketing reasons and especially likelnesses etc on your cover that would be problematic.

Writing in your blurb about the fact that you write stories about these famous people is not promoting itself it is describing the content. I'd look if I could find a few books like this from famous publishers - these usually have good lawyers to eradicate the kinks. ;) hth.
 

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Another concern is where you are getting the information for your stories. If you have read a book or an article about a famous person and are using that as your source, you could be guilty of plagiarism as it is easy to use the same phrases and descriptions without even realizing it.
 

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Fred Forsyth and others would have been out of business long ago if writers could not feature famous people in their fiction.

Provided they are presented faithfully in character and in circumstances close to true life, you should not go far wrong. For instance, de Gaulle did have assassination attempts on his life and shrugged them off in true Gallic style, there was an OAS and so on and so forth. The trick is weaving fact and fiction so finely they can't be distinguished, without straying outside the truth.
 
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