Lin-Yi (randomdream) wrote in little_details,

Legalities of using real people / real institutions in novel...

My story is set during the whole year leading up to the 2008 Olympiad, beginning in Texas, spending a few months in California, and eventually culminating at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Kyoto, Japan. I'm trying to figure out what the legalities are when an author chooses to use real people as characters, or refer to real institutions in a book.

I ask for two reasons. First, one of the characters in my novel is attending the University of Texas. I've been struggling to avoid mentioning the full name or referring to the longhorn mascot, etc. because I was worried about the legality of using it in the first place, especially if I am not showing it in the best light. I know it has trademarked logos and etc, and it's a State school. I know people who've gotten in trouble just for printing the UT logo on a cheap t-shirt without getting it approved first--and that was just a shirt. Novels have a much wider audience, and if my characters are making a few disparaging remarks about UT policies, wouldn't that be bad for similar reasons? I'm not intending to slander, and it's only a fraction of the larger story. But it's still not a glowing recommendation for one of their particular sport program policies.

The second part of my question arises because I'd really love to use this Japanese man, Shun Fujimoto, in my novel as the official person who lights the Olympic Torch. At most, he would appear in my novel probably through an interview or something on TV showing his incredible story, and then during the Opening Ceremonies as he lights the Torch (in a cool way I have not yet figured out). I'd really love to use him because his story embodies a lot of the Japanese ideas towards honor in sport. As long as I keep it realistic and not slandering, there wouldn't be any problem having this man appear in my fictional novel, right? A friend tried to tell me it didn't matter because his actions in the '76 Games were in the public eye, and since he is famous, his story is kind of free to be shared.

I feel like I'm trying to blend fiction and non-fiction. I don't know what rules apply, and I'm having trouble finding a resource to help. Any ideas? A Google search on "writing nonfiction legality" was wide enough to bring in "legal writing" and "nonfiction writing" results, but nothing helpful. I also Googled terms like writers + "legal issues" which was still too wide a search. I dug through Writer's Digest online. I did find this helpful article, but that talks about brand names. I don't know if a state university is a brand.

Any help clearing up these details would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks in advance!
Tags: ~law (misc)

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