... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

415: A Libel

Yesterday I owned five poetry books; today I realised I've got a pile of stuff like various Dr. Zeus, Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, and Michael Rosen's Don't Put Mustard in the Custard. Kids' verse, but kids' verse with 'tude. Of the top of my head I can remember Dahl's telling of Little Red Riding Hood featuring her "whipping a pistol from her knickers" and showing that fucking wolf who's boss. Both the Dahl and the Rosen are illustrated by Quentin Blake, so I don't need to tell you how fantastic they look; It's Quentin Blake.

Today I have mostly been working out the legal requirements, and potential hazards with the UK's hyper-strict and unbalanced libel laws, with regard to basing fictional characters on real people. Especially when those real people are complete hateful bastard former-employers. As far as I could glean the best thing to do is use them as a basis for characterisation; obviously change the names, but also change the profession, don't use direct quotes from them. But from there go crazy; make them as hideous as possible, just use your creativity. Don't get bogged down trying to portray them accurately. Monstrous charicature is the way forward. The people I am talking about are so vile and hideous that shouldn't be hard. But once I have generated the characters based on them, they no longer constitute the real people, and I can then play with them as my developing plot dictates.

I did discover one amusing and very basic way of using a real person as a fictional character. This method does not require making any major changes to the persons identity, but I would have thought it was only available as a tactic for already established authors sitting on the available wealth to be able to defend themselves against potential libel suits. It's called the Small Penis Rule; ha ha you laugh knowingly, I can guess what is going on here:

Although writers may feel there are few moral limits to what they can borrow from real lives, there are legal limits. Leon Friedman, who was Sir Stephen's American lawyer in his dispute with Mr. Leavitt and who moderated the Authors Guild panel, observed that ''under New York State law, you cannot use a person's name, portrait or picture for purposes of trade without their permission.'' You can, however, use a person's identity if you don't use his name, he added.
That is, unless you libel them. ''Still, for a fictional portrait to be actionable, it must be so accurate that a reader of the book would have no problem linking the two,'' said Mr. Friedman. Thus, he continued, libel lawyers have what is known as ''the small penis rule.'' One way authors can protect themselves from libel suits is to say that a character has a small penis, Mr. Friedman said. ''Now no male is going to come forward and say, 'That character with a very small penis, 'That's me!' ''

Apparantly Michael Crichton, pissed off with another author Michael Crowley, after the latter gave the former a bad review, wrote a child rapist character called Mick Crowley into his novel Next:

Mr. Crowley writes that Mr. Crichton’s Mick Crowley not only has a similar name but is also a graduate of Yale and a Washington political journalist. Mr. Crowley contends that Mr. Crichton has tried to escape public censure for his literary attack by hiding behind what has become known as “the small penis rule.”

I contend that this is a dangerous game and one I will not be playing in the course of writing my novel. Still, I'm sure Michael Crichton enjoyed playing it, in a sort of megalomaniacal, twisted over-lord kind-of-way. Anyway, I've finished writing this blog post now, so what are you still reading it for.

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