Monday, May 18, 2009

Fictitious Journal About Celebrity

Dear Rich: Here's a celebrity question for you. I have a blog that serves as an entirely fictitious journal about growing up with a particular celebrity. I am not selling anything and I don't plan to do so.  I'm also not portraying the celebrity in any sort of negative light. Can I run into trouble using the celebrity's name?  What about a picture of the celebrity?  Can I add a disclaimer of some kind to avoid problems? I'm so glad you asked. In fact, that gives me an idea, since I always wondered what it would be like to grow up next door to Totie Fields (a funny woman and an inspiration to us all). Uh, right... back to your question. The short answer is that you can use the celebrity in your blog because most courts consider fictional uses of celebrities to be protected under the first amendment -- a right that trumps the right of publicity. You will run into problems if you make a factual misrepresentation which could reasonably be misinterpreted as being true and damaging to the celebrity ("reckless falsehoods") -- for example, you write an entry stating the celeb's in rehab and readers might reasonably infer this is true (when it's not). In that case, you could be liable under defamation, false light privacy laws. Your lack of commercial benefit (we're assuming you're not running Google Adsense or Amazon Affiliate sales), would help your claim as would providing a prominent disclaimer (scroll to bottom of this page for an example). The Dear Rich staff suggests a disclaimer something to the effect that the blog is fictional and is not approved or endorsed by [name of celebrity]. Running a picture will only cause problems if you don't have permission from the copyright owner. In any case, the Dear RIch staff advises that if you're a fearless writer with few assets, you can dispense with all this advice and do what you want. The worst that's likely to happen (no guarantees, of course) is that you'll be asked to take your blog down.