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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XXXI The Danger of Libel

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XXXI The Danger of Libel

THE author of any book, story, or article is jointly liable with the publisher of it, for anything which may be legally construed to be injurious or damaging to the party written about; and he or the publisher, or both of them, may be subjected to suit at law, resulting in fines or even imprisonment.

Libel may exist even though the true names of the parties written about are not mentioned, if the inference is sufficient to locate them.

Practically every contract made with book publishers contains a clause which holds the author responsible for any damage which may result from the publication of his manuscript. This does not exempt the publisher from liability, but it holds the author co-responsible with him.

Writers should use great care to avoid any complications. If their characters are drawn from life, they should carefully disguise them, or else obtain their permission, particularly if what they say about them can be construed as injurious to their reputations or business. Not only is it well to use fictitious names, but the names of localities should be changed if there appears to be opportunity for libel. When in doubt, authors should carefully avoid using verbatim any expression which his characters have made in real life, or which would be sufficient to establish connection between them and what is said about them.

If he allows his characters to do and say what is highly to their credit, he may not be in much danger; but even then, he should use due care. If it is necessary for him to print their real names, or to make them do or say what they have said and done, then he should be absolutely sure of his facts and be prepared to prove his statements in a court of law.

While libel suits are an exception rather than the rule, and while comparatively few people care to subject themselves to the annoyance of a lawsuit unless the statements made are directly li-belous, the author should be on his guard, and should not place in his book anything which will injure the reputation of any honest person or persons.

By judicious changing of names and of localities, one may be permitted to say almost anything, and the value of the book or article is not lessened.