The Challenge Of Showing A Fictional Work Is Libelous
Many people are flattered when authors create book characters based on them; that is, until those characters do something that reflects poorly on them. If the transgressions are severe enough, you can sue the author for defamation. However, this type of personal injury lawsuit is difficult to win. Here is one challenge you may face when litigating a libel in fiction case and what you can do to overcome it.
Difficulty Proving Defamation
The problem you'll run into is proving the statements made in the book are, in fact, defamatory. Defamation is defined as untrue statements that harm a person's reputation or causes other people to avoid associating with the individual.
Fictional works can make proving this point a little easier because—in addition to the statements made about the character—the character's behavior can also be considered libelous. For example, if the writer shows the character stealing money from an elderly person, it could be considered defamation by the court if you can adequately prove you never did or would do something like that and your reputation was harmed.
However, it can still be hard to show the work is defamatory because the case will rely on an interpretation of the writing. For instance, if another character in the piece says something bad about the character that represents you, the defendant could claim this is that character's opinion and not actually a statement of fact about you.
Another issue is an unfavorable depiction is not necessarily libelous. Even though you may not engage in the specific act depicted in the book, the court may not consider it defamation if the act is something you would do based on behavior and tendencies you've exhibited in the past. If the character consistently lies to others in the book and you've been caught lying before, the defendant could successfully argue that the character is not libelous because he or she is engaging in behavior you've done and it is therefore truthful.
Bolstering Your Case
There are a couple of things you can to do increase the strength of your case. One option is to parse the language used in the book. For instance, when people use the words "I think", what follows is typically their opinion about the follow up statement. On the other hand, when people say things like "He is" or "That is", it could be interpreted as them making a statement of fact. You can show the writer meant to make specific negative statements about you based on how they are written in the book.
Another thing you can do is have witnesses offer testimony about your character to dispute the claim the fictional person is behaving in the same manner as you would. This testimony can be done in-person or submitted in writing and included as evidence when you file your case. Have loved ones and professional acquaintances testify to provide a diverse opinion about your character to avoid accusations of bias.
For more information about litigating a libel-in-fiction case, contact a personal injury attorney or discover more here.