Q: I'm writing a fiction book about a friend, it's very insulting about the people in it, could I be sued?
So it's very immature, it's about one friend banging another friends mom. It's 52,000 words right now and I intend to make it longer. If my friends mom, who is very uptight, gets a hold of it, could I be sued? What if I don't sell it and just print some copies for me and my friends to read? Could even that get me sued? What if I want to sell it, is changing all the names enough to get me out of trouble? I don't expect any publishers to want it, but you can sell books on amazon and such, and I am worried, cuz I'm putting a lot of work into this and I want to know what the limits are, should I just delete it and never think about it again? But again I've been working on it for almost three years and It's like my baby. I love the book, despite the jokey nature of it, and wouldn't want to see it as exhibit A in a lawsuit. Could I self publish like 5 copies with the real names, and then change the names to publish it for real? I'm just really worried about the situation and could use help.
A: I'm not licensed in Pennsylvania but the likelihood of being sued it would depend on a number of things. First, it would depend on what Pennsylvania's laws are for defamation and right of publicity. If you publish a false statement of fact about a person to another person you could be liable for defamation. Likewise, if you use someone's name or likeness for commercial gain, you could be liable for a violation of their right of publicity if Pennsylvania protects that privacy right (Google the "Perfect Storm case" in Florida and you'll see what I mean). There is also a false light or invasion of privacy type action, again, depending on Pennsylvania law. There are defenses based on the First Amendment with greater protection being given to fiction works, but these are defenses meaning you've been sued and now have to defend against the case. I'm almost certain if you publish it in any way you're going to need a lawyer so you may want to employ one early to see what your options are.
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