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Maryland Author’s Attorney: Nonfiction, Defamation, Invasion of Privacy and How to Avoid Being Sued

Maryland Attorney Stephen J. Reichert www.reichertlegal.comWhen writing nonfiction, particularly about living people, give thought to some of the legal issues that could arise.

Most questions which arise about the portrayal of a person in nonfiction are from defamation and invasion of privacy:

Defamation: A person may claim that the book contains falsehoods that hold the subject up to scorn.

Invasion of privacy: The issue here is not the truth of what is reported, but whether it is “not related to public concern.”

For a deceased person portrayed in the book the family members may make a claim of defamation or invasion of privacy.

While the importance is in the details of HOW you do it, this is a good list to start you thinking about what you SHOULD do:

Stick to the truth. Nobody can claim defamation if you are truthful in what you say.

Opinion is not “fact”. Make clear what is a fact and what is a statement of opinion. For example: think about newspaper editorials and how they make statements of opinion and not fact.

Don’t report facts that may cause damage. This is where invasion of privacy issues arise. Somebody claims that something you said, even though true, is private and should not have been included.

Get a written release from anyone who is included. Let people who will be included know that they are in the book.

Disguise the identity of the people you include. This involves not only changing names, but possibly physical appearance and other details to prevent them from being recognized by others.

Using disclaimers can avoid problems. Let the reader know that you have changed some of the names and why. In addition, memoirists sometimes use disclaimers to indicate that the story is told from their point of view and that others may remember the events differently.

Purchase liability insurance. If you are already working with a publisher make sure the publisher has liability insurance that will cover your work (they often don’t) and then negotiate this as part of proceeding with the publication of your work.

For a confidential conversation to discuss these and other intellectual property law matters, contact Maryland attorney Stephen J. Reichert at 410-299-4959, or by clicking here.

Day, evening and weekend appointments are available in office or at your residence. Mr. Reichert personally serves clients in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Carroll County, Harford County, Frederick County, Montgomery County and throughout most of Maryland.