Can you use real place names and businesses in a story that's fiction, but inspired by a news article or report?
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Michael wrote in to say “We are working on a project that is inspired by an article (news story) from the internet. The article is about a body found buried in the woods, but the story we created is completely fictional. Would it be ok to use the name of the town where the body was found? People would then be able to google the article the story was based on. The story is completely fictional and does not imply inclusion of anyone in the article. The body was found on land owned by a corporation. I assume it would be smart to make up a fictionalized corporation rather than used the real corporation because it is very recognizable?”
It's probably a good idea to create a fictional town and company for this kind of story. You see, if anyone from that town, or the company itself feels that your fictional story (which is by its very nature, FALSE) has damaged his, her or its reputation, you could wind up on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Libel, the written/recorded version of defamation, is any false statement made about a person (or business), that causes injury or damage to reputation. It's true that the statement has to be factual in its nature, but because there WAS a news item that inspired the story, you have to be extra careful.
So, change the names, the town, and the company name, just to avoid any problems. And don't try to capitalize on the news item by connecting your project too closely,.. that's what could give rise to the “factual” aspect I mentioned.
And DO include the disclaimer saying that it's a work of fiction and that any resemblance to any actual events or persons is entirely coincidental.
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