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Defamation in FilmDefamation Claims Are Never Dead

Biopics are gaining in popularity, both with critics and movie watchers. Real people are a great inspiration and source for film scripts, but they also come with some legal baggage: the risk of defamation lawsuits.

Many filmmakers and script writers mistakenly believe defamation only occurs when fictitious claims are made about the living, such as when American Hustle claimed Paul Brodeur said microwaves are bad.

In reality, fictionalized stories of real events, documentaries, and other non-fiction films are at risk of defamations claims—even when the source of those stories are no longer living.

Non-fiction Is Not Protected

You may be inclined to believe that your film’s status as a documentary removes it from defamation claims. After all, you are recording other people’s real opinions and views.

Not so. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the book which chronicles the life of Władysław Szpilman (the title character of the 2002 film, The Pianist) is being sued for defamation.

Despite the fact that the book merely recounts another person’s memories of Szpilman, his family was able to successfully sue the author on claims of defamation. Among other judgments, the author must remove the offending passages from future editions of his book.

Deceased Individuals Are Not “Fair Game”

What makes the lawsuit of Szpilman even more intriguing is that the lawsuit was not brought by Szpilman himself. He passed away in 2000. Instead, it was his family that filed suit, seeking to protect Szpilman’s memory.

That lawsuit was filed in Poland, whose laws around defamation differ from those in the U.S. But even in the United States, defamation laws concerning the deceased can vary from state to state.

This means, if your film is based on a real person who is alive or only recently deceased, you might be at risk for a defamation lawsuit.

Protect Your Film from Defamation Risks

With so many different laws around what constitutes defamation, both in the U.S. and globally, it can be difficult to determine what risks your film may be undertaking.

A Script Clearance Report will examine your script for potential defamation risks, and if they exist, will provide additional resources to correct or mitigate them. This early detection system gives you the opportunity to produce the best film possible while also avoiding costly legal entanglements.

A Script Clearance Report will also identify potential copyright, trademark, publicity, or privacy issues.

Don’t be surprised by a defamation lawsuit. Ensure you have the best possible legal standing with a Script Clearance Report today.