Friday, June 22, 2007

The legal issue of using real humans' names

I am writing the life story of my late maternal grandmother. I've received a lot of enthusiastically given info from her children and their spouses. They feature in the story quite a lot. My question is, to give these people identity privacy, is it alright to change their names? They're not fussy but I feel it might be better for them in the long run. Being a stickler for detail accuracy, name change goes against the grain. In this case though I think their privacy is important.

This is not something to worry about until you find a publisher - unless you're actually defaming one of them, in which case you should remove the material immediately (because you certainly won't be able to publish it). For most non-fiction works which refer to living human beings, publishers will have a lawyer check the material for potential defamation problems. And the lawyer will recommend whether you need to change the names or not. Usually name changes are recommended when the book has something to do with policing or a court case; they're not generally needed if the material you're writing is legally benign. Still: don't worry about it right now.

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