RARA-AVIS: Re: Life v. Fiction (the lawsuit)

Victoria Esposito-Shea (vmes@sbt.infi.net)
Fri, 23 Apr 1999 09:59:16 -0500 :
: Despite what seems like a galloping case of paranoia, the question does
: remain: when someone bases a story on a real-life incident, is it theft?
: think Patrica Cornwell was also sued for this, but that had to do more
: the fact that she used confidential coroner's reports which she had
: to during her day job).
: Personally, I'd have to question how someone could be sued for distorting
: the truth in fiction. Seems like a real "Duh!" to me, but then, people
: successfully sued McDonald's because nobody told them that hot coffee was
: hot, and that it might hurt if you spill it on yourself.


In the U.S. at least, that's been done a number of times. The classic
example is a suit called _Time, Inc. v. Hill_ that made it up to the U.S.
Supreme Court. Remember the Bogart movie The Desperate Hours? Apparently,
it was based on a play, which was in turn based on a real-life incident.
The problems started when Life magazine ran a piece on the play, including
a mention of the real life incident, and the Hill family successfully sued
Time/Life for portraying them in a "false light"--because the play made
them out to be *braver* than they were in real life. (As a historical
footnote, Richard Nixon was the Hills' lawyer, and the case can be found at
385 U.S. 374 (1967).)

Go figure.

Vicky Esposito-Shea
(now returning to lurkdom and finals)

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