You see them everywhere. DVD bonus features that claim “all views expressed are those of the celebs, not the studio” are a prime example of this. Authors can use disclaimers to avoid being sued by various parties when they publish a book. But how do you write one? And when do you need them?
You’re writing real stories about real people, places, and brands. Lots of memoir writers are afraid of being sued. You can’t claim it’s fiction, so what do you do?
- Get permission for family and friends to use them in your memoir
- If you can’t get permission, or if you want/need to protect someone’s identity, change their name or omit a name altogether
- Publish only what you know/remember to be true and follow both defamation of character and expectation of privacy laws.
“This is a work of creative non-fiction. All of the events in this memoir are true to the best of the author’s memory. Some names and identifying features have been changed to protect the identity of certain parties. The author in no way represents any company, corporation, or brand, mentioned herein. The views expressed in this memoir are solely those of the author.”
This disclaimer does not give you license to break the law or be a complete jerk in your memoir. You can still be held accountable for what you publish.
General Fiction Disclaimer
“This is a work of fiction. Any semblance between characters and real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.”
Use this in ANY work of fiction in ANY genre.
Fiction Disclaimer When Using Historical Figures, Celebrities, or Brands
“This is a work of fiction. Any semblance between original characters and real persons, living or dead, is coincidental. The author in no way represents the companies, corporations, or brands mentioned in this book. The likeness of historical/famous figures have been used fictitiously; the author does not speak for or represent these people. All opinions expressed in this book are the author’s, or fictional.”
Disclaimer Addressing a Specific Issue
In my debut novel, a character attempts suicide after being bullied on social media. In included this disclaimer:
“Cyberbullying is the fault of the bully, not the platform. The author does not intend to blame Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media platform referenced in this work of fiction, of causing or promoting bullying or suicide.”
Also, when my character, Molly, had a stomach ache, she took Tums (TM). Because she was using the product as intended, there was no issue. When she attempts suicide by overdose, she uses painkillers – no brand is mentioned. Associated a brand with the act of suicide would have been lawsuit worthy (if my book had made it big).
Content Disclaimer or Content/Trigger Warning
If your book (fiction or non-fiction) deals with traumatic or triggering themes, you may consider putting a note at the beginning.
“This book deals with sexual assault. While the author has taken great lengths to ensure the subject matter is dealt with in a compassionate and respectful manner, it may be troubling for some readers. Discretion is adviced.”
Replace “sexual assault” with “child abuse”, “drug abuse”, “domestic violence”, or any other traumatic event your story may deal with. If filmmakers can include “Viewer discretion is adviced” warnings on their products, so can we. It’s courteous.
You are responsible for putting in the correct disclaimers and copyright information in your books. If you are concerned about something you’ve written, hire an editor with experience in these issues, or hire a sensitivity reader.
Your publisher will put the disclaimer in for you. If you’re concerned, ask to see the proof of the copyright page before it goes to print. If they are concerned they will ask you to change a name or reference.
I hope this helps!