Libel Law

Are you publishing a book? Are your characters based on real people? 

It is paramount that you understand the basics of libel law to avoid the possibility of being sued. 

Libel means the publication of false statements that is damaging to an individual’s reputation, also known as written defamation. Someone who has suffered a libel statement may sue the person who wrote that statement. Libel is considered to be a civil wrong with expensive lawsuits and criminal penalties. 

There is a fine line between a person's right to protect their reputation and another’s right to freedom of speech. It is often difficult to know which personal remarks are acceptable and which provoke libel law.

If you are writing non-fiction, implementing these guidelines will keep you safe. 

  • Tell the truth, a true statement is never considered libel. 
  • Use statements of opinion, they are subjective and not considered a lie. 
  • Have documents and evidence to support controversial
    facts or personal attacks. 
  • Verify your information, double check accuracy of names, places, and dates. 
  • Use understatement. 
  • Don’t sacrifice clarity for style. 
  • Attribute the sources of criminal or ethical violations. 
  • Avoid absolutes, words like always and never. 
  • Be reasonable and treat others the way you would like to be treated. 
  • Include a disclaimer at the beginning of the book.

But what if you are writing fiction? Guess what, you still run the risk of getting into big trouble. It may seem bizarre that someone can sue for libel in fiction because it requires the writing of false statements of facts about a real person, and by its very nature, fiction implies fabrication and imagination. But it can happen. To protect yourself and your work, keep the guidelines above in mind and do not make any actual statements of fact. Make it difficult for a libel-in-fiction plaintiff to establish that your work is about them. It can be as simple as changing a character’s name and mannerism.

If you have any questions or concerns about libel law, feel free to reach out. We are happy to help you along your publishing journey.

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