Making a film based on real events. When making a film based on real events, there are three primary concerns: (1) Are you stepping on anyone's copyright? (2) Are you defaming or invading the privacy of any individual? and (3) Are you stepping on anyone's right of publicity?
- Copyright. The facts of the case are available for everyone to use. As a general rule, the more that you fictionalize the less chance you'll run into copyright problems. However, too much fictionalization of real-life characters may lead to claims of defamation if the fictional liberties cause people to suffer harm. In other words if you fictionalize a real person doing something illegal or immoral, you might hear from a lawyer (or barrister since this is a UK story). Still, we wouldn't worry too much, see below.
- Defamation/Invasion of Privacy. Occasionally people complain that a movie portrays them in a libelousmanner or a "false light." Such lawsuits rarely get very far because judges give movie makers a lot of free speech leeway. For example, a former ambassador sued the makers of the film The Missing on that basis, and the case was dismissed.
- Right of Publicity. A right of publicity claim is unlikely to succeed solely on the basis of a film. However, it may get more traction if the film sells merchandise or other commercial items using the person's image or personna.
Bottom line dept. There have been plenty of re-tellings of the Enfield poltergeist story and so we think there's room for yours as well.