A reader wrote to me today:
A person I know has written a semi-fictional story about the start of his garage band. Unfortunately, he used the names and characters of real people and grossly exaggerated the facts, making up events that never happened, but using enough facts to make it all seem real. He didn’t tell the people involved what he was doing and published it on Facebook. They are very upset and he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. He says he can use anyone’s name and personality any way he wants. Is he correct?
And this is what I wrote back:
I'm not a lawyer. I know lots of writers have sold books about fictional versions of the Kennedy family and other well-known persons. Way back in the 1930s, Upton Sinclair wrote a series of thrillers with FDR as a major character. Plenty of current novels mention real people. I often read novels with statements like, "Where real persons are mentioned, they are used in a fictional manner," etc. These are attempts to protect the author and publisher from legal reprisals. (Most book contracts include a clause in which the author agrees to go to court with the publisher if someone does launch a suit for defamation or plagiarism.)
Nevertheless, I think your acquaintance could be in some legal trouble, if only on grounds of invasion of privacy...which means he certainly may not "use anyone's name and personality any way he wants." And I really doubt that Facebook is ready to stand up in court with your acquaintance.
That's my advice--free and worth every penny you paid for it.