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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm trying to be careful and not do anything that could get me into trouble, but I'm scratching my head on this one. I'm in the middle of a story about a serial killer that's set in the 1970s. The guy is obsessed with movie stars from the black and white era of television. I need to make a mention of Judy Garland in the book, as she's who he "models" himself after physically.

Naturally, I can't mention any of her songs or films by either title or lyric, but could I make a mention of her name and vaguely describe a film or song? For example:

I turned on the radio, and one of those Judy Garland Vaudville numbers about the guy who got away blared through the speakers. I smiled, thinking to myself that the man I had wouldn't be so lucky.

That's not an actual line. It's just along the lines of how I would use her name. I've searched around, but I still don't know for sure if this is acceptable. Advice? ;D
 

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David Scroggins said:
I'm trying to be careful and not do anything that could get me into trouble, but I'm scratching my head on this one. I'm in the middle of a story about a serial killer that's set in the 1970s. The guy is obsessed with movie stars from the black and white era of television. I need to make a mention of Judy Garland in the book, as she's who he "models" himself after physically.

Naturally, I can't mention any of her songs or films by either title or lyric, but could I make a mention of her name and vaguely describe a film or song? For example:

I turned on the radio, and one of those Judy Garland Vaudville numbers about the guy who got away blared through the speakers. I smiled, thinking to myself that the man I had wouldn't be so lucky.

That's not an actual line. It's just along the lines of how I would use her name. I've searched around, but I still don't know for sure if this is acceptable. Advice? ;D
I heard a line from a character in a Television series recently claiming that someone had spent "more time on her knees than Paris Hilton".
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
DarkScribe said:
I heard a line from a character in a Television series recently claiming that someone had spent "more time on her knees than Paris Hilton".
Good point. I've heard similar things in the past. I'm hoping that my mention should be fine based on your example, but if not, I can always be more vague. I figure if there's any problems, I could say "Judy's voice blared through the speakers. She was singing that song about lovers getting away."
 

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David Scroggins said:
Good point. I've heard similar things in the past. I'm hoping that my mention should be fine based on your example, but if not, I can always be more vague. I figure if there's any problems, I could say "Judy's voice blared through the speakers. She was singing that song about lovers getting away."
There is nothing to stop anyone noting that a certain song, sung by a certain singer was playing. You cannot quote lyrics, but you can mention songs and who sang them. For instance at the moment a radio close to me is playing Sharon O'Neill singing Asian Paradise. No law, rule or regulation can prevent me from mentioning that to anyone, in print or using any other means of communication. If I was to make a disparaging comment about the singer or the song whoever holds the rights MIGHT try to sue - but not if the comment was described as simply my opinion. I am entitled to an opinion, but I cannot express it as fact.
 

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David Scroggins said:
I'm trying to be careful and not do anything that could get me into trouble, but I'm scratching my head on this one. I'm in the middle of a story about a serial killer that's set in the 1970s. The guy is obsessed with movie stars from the black and white era of television. I need to make a mention of Judy Garland in the book, as she's who he "models" himself after physically.

Naturally, I can't mention any of her songs or films by either title or lyric, but could I make a mention of her name and vaguely describe a film or song? For example:

I turned on the radio, and one of those Judy Garland Vaudville numbers about the guy who got away blared through the speakers. I smiled, thinking to myself that the man I had wouldn't be so lucky.

That's not an actual line. It's just along the lines of how I would use her name. I've searched around, but I still don't know for sure if this is acceptable. Advice? ;D
Titles are not included in the copyright and cannot be copyrighted. People mention the titles of songs and titles in books all the time. As long as you don't quote lyrics, it's no problem. I wouldn't say anything disparaging since her estate could object to that (unlikely but possible) but the works can certainly be specifically mentioned.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
That's what I was hoping to hear. I'm glad, because as I was writing, I realized that I also had to mention Bing Crosby briefly. I'll make sure to keep song lyrics far, far away and stick with names and titles as needed.

Thanks to both of you!  :D
 

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I do not believe there is any limit to mentioning celebrities--they are considered to have lost their right to privacy to anything they have done in public. (Even though I do sympathize with celebrities who are hounded by paparazzi or those whose privacy is invaded.)

One of the most amazing shows to watch, one that skewers celebrities, is South Park. If you see the Paris Hilton episode . . . I don't know of any show that has gone that far!

Yes, and titles are totally copyright free.
 

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P.C. (Peter) Anders said:
I do not believe there is any limit to mentioning celebrities--they are considered to have lost their right to privacy to anything they have done in public. (Even though I do sympathize with celebrities who are hounded by paparazzi or those whose privacy is invaded.)

One of the most amazing shows to watch, one that skewers celebrities, is South Park. If you see the Paris Hilton episode . . . I don't know of any show that has gone that far!

Yes, and titles are totally copyright free.
There was a South Park episode where Oprah's vagina took hostages. I had difficulty believing that they could get away with that.
 

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humblenations said:
Would Oprah go to court to fight it? It would just draw attention to her vagina surely. And if she can't laugh at her vagina she has a problem. And her vagina would be laughed out of court. Fair usage in comedy is an accepted defence. Or at least it is in England.

This here is something that is quite interesting. it's about all the legal defences for using famous people in England. Watch and learn. BTW, it's wrapped in comedy but there are some good facts there. Watch and learn:

I have seen it before - we get QI here. Sometimes a good show, at other times it can be painfully boring. It was losing audience to Doc Martin.
 
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In general, simply mentioning a person is no different than mentioning a place, business, or object. It's called incidental referencing, and it isn't a big deal.

Incidental reference: Writing in the story "She listened to Justin Beiber's interview intently."

Where things get hairy is when you try to make a person a central character in a fictional work. In that regard, there are a whole boatload of ways you can get in trouble.

Libel: If what you say about a person can be interpreted as making a statement of fact, you could risk libel. In particular, if those statements can be interpreted as harming the person's reputation and causing harm.

Libel: Making a claim in the story that Justin Beiber has sex with underage girls.

Right of Publicity: Many states and some countries recognize the right of an individual to control the use of his or her own person for commercial use. If you present the person in such a way that it would lead a reasonable person to assume the celebrity is endorsing, supporting, or otherwise involved in your product, you could run afoul of right of publicity laws.

Right of Publicity: Making Justin Beiber the man character in your story, and putting a picture of him on the cover, in an attempt to get sales from his fans.

Trademark: A little known quirk of trademark law is that you can trademark your name in some cases. If a celebrity's name is trademarked, you need to adhere to trademark law when using this person just as if you were referring to a trademarked brand.

Obviously, there people can probably come up with dozens of examples where people "get around" these issues. I'm not a lawyer and I'm not going to argue the legality of using a real person in your fiction. I will only point out that celebrities tend to have more attorneys than you. And we have a system of civil law in the U.S. that makes it very easy for people with expensive lawyers to quickly shut down people who can't afford lawyers. If you are just making incidental references to people, you don't have a lot to worry about. But if you are going to make a person (or even a corporation or brand) a central aspect of your story, there is no black-and-white protection for you. They say the truth is always a defense in cases of libel, but the truth won't pay your attorney fees.



 

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Writing about a celebrity at some distance -- say, using a motif of Judy Garland in the 70s with all of the knowledge, etc, that we have in 2013 is fine. It's appropriate to the time, and you can signal several things to the reader depending on your choice.

Where the problem comes in for me is when a writer uses a current celebrity as shorthand in their writing to indicate something, because there can be two drastic effects:

1) Because of the inflation of what's considered "celebrity," I the reader have ZERO idea who the writer is talking about.

or much, much worse

2) The celebrity does something to change their public persona, thereby altering the story.

I've read more than one book comparing the hero to Mel Gibson.

Needless to say, those books undoubtedly read very, very differently these days.
 
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