Real Characters
Los Angeles Lawyer
May 1, 2012

This article reviews libel-in-fiction lawsuits, where a plaintiff files a defamation claim alleging that a fictional character is really that plaintiff. Most of the cases to date have been filed in California and New York courts. The article discusses the criterion of whether a work is "of and concerning" a real life individual. The article reviews recent California cases such as the claim against Sacha Baron Cohen, Doe v. Channel Four Television Corporation; the case brought by Jeffrey Sarver, alleging his military experiences were the basis of movie, The Hurt Locker; and the defamation claim of two individuals about an episode in the CBS TV show, CSI. It also analyzes New York lawsuits, such as those involving the novels State of Grace and Disappearing Acts, and the fictional book Primary Colors.

The article also provides information on libel-in-fiction cases which have survived the pleading and summary judgment stages. It concludes by giving suggestions on what the makers of fictional work can do to protect themselves from these types of lawsuits.

The article was judged by Thomson Reuters (West) as one of the best law review articles published within the last year in the fields of entertainment, publishing and the arts, and has been selected for inclusion in the 2012 Edition of the Entertainment, Publishing and the Arts Handbook.