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A biography is published about some notable person in motorsport, A, now dead.

In the book, assertions are made that another notable person in that sport, B, was about to be hired by A until an existing injured employee C of the same organization (also notable in reputation) heard about it; and it is further asserted that, for purely personal reasons, C used his influence with the parent organization to override the plans of A to hire B.

I (and everyone who followed that sport in the decade concerned) know these assertions to be false. Yet younger people do not know what we know - and are likely to take things written in a best-selling book as fact.

Yet can I - or anyone else, even the families of B and C - do anything to correct these assertions which must be very hurtful to the reputation of both B and C since both B and C are now dead ?

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  • 3
    I don't even understand the question. Are you entertaining the possibility that you are legally prohibited from saying that you disagree with the author?
    – bdb484
    Commented Mar 16 at 1:11
  • 2
    I meant object legally, i.e. make the publication be corrected on foot of a court order.
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 16 at 13:38
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    Oh. Definitely not.
    – bdb484
    Commented Mar 17 at 12:49

3 Answers 3

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Yet can I - or anyone else, even the families of B and C - do anything to correct these assertions which must be very hurtful to the reputation of both B and C since both B and C are now dead

You can write your own competing book or a critical review of the original book.

You do not have standing to bring a defamation claim and even if you did, you cannot defame the dead.

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  • And on the matter of knowably (i.e. what even basic research into the matter would show) incorrect statements in the book, defamatory or not, do the public have any right to object to this?
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 15 at 22:01
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    @Trunk You can object all you want -- post your complaints on social media. It doesn't mean they have to do anything about it. There's no law that says that books have to be true.,
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 15 at 22:22
  • "do the public have any right to object to this?" Yes. The public, you, anybody can object. Commented Mar 15 at 22:34
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    @Trunk It is not illegal to make an incorrect statement in a book. Anybody can say anything they want about it, but you can't stop someone else from saying something incorrect or otherwise punish someone for that just because its false.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 16 at 4:28
  • Update: I wrote to the author of the book via an email address on their personal website. After clarifying the facts and offering more realistic explanations for the events he tried to attribute to personal animosity, I asked the author to make appropriate corrections. What these may be for a book already in bookstores, I do not know. I will advise this thread if I get a response to my letter. I am considering a fuller letter to a UK motorsport magazine on this matter. But I would prefer if anything published here would be in the name of a notable journalist to give it more weight.
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 22 at 12:33
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It is not illegal to tell lies

There are circumstances where it is but writing non-fiction isn’t one. Just look at any paranormal “documentary”.

It is Illegal to defame someone who is still alive but only that person has standing to sue for it. If I call your brother something awful and untrue, he can sue me, but you can’t; if your brother is dead, then he can’t be defamed.

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    Telling lies may well be illegal (e.g. lies on consumer product labels).
    – Greendrake
    Commented Mar 16 at 8:05
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    @Greendrake the lying is fine, defrauding customers is not. Commented Mar 16 at 12:25
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    FWIW, historically, it was often a crime to "speak ill of the dead" even if what was said was true and this was typically one facet of a criminal defamation statute. For example, Colorado had such a statute maybe 70+ years ago.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 18 at 16:06
  • Look at A Million Little Pieces, which claimed to be a non-fiction memoir but contained substantial fabrication. It was sufficiently close enough to fraud that the publisher offered refunds.
    – user71659
    Commented Mar 18 at 18:27
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    @user71659 that was a commercial decision, not a legal requirement
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 18 at 19:15
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In Spain, relatives of a deceased person have standing to seek remedy against defamation, unless the will of the deceased specifies another person (even a juridical person) to have standing.

The relevant law is the Ley Orgánica 1/1982, de 5 de mayo, de protección civil del derecho al honor, a la intimidad personal y familiar y a la propia imagen (Organic Law 1/1982, of May 5th, on civil protection of the right to honor, personal and family privacy and one's own image).

The lies explained in the question match what is described in article 7, point 7:

Artículo séptimo

Tendrán la consideración de intromisiones ilegítimas en el ámbito de protección delimitado por el artículo segundo de esta Ley:

  1. La imputación de hechos o la manifestación de juicios de valor a través de acciones o expresiones que de cualquier modo lesionen la dignidad de otra persona, menoscabando su fama o atentando contra su propia estimación.

Article seven

The following will be considered illegitimate interferences in the scope of protection delimited by the second article of this Law:

  1. The imputation of facts or the manifestation of value judgments through actions or expressions that in any way harm the dignity of another person, undermining their fame or attacking their own self-esteem.

And article 4 states who has standing to protect the honor af dead person. Interestingly, to put a temporal limit, only relatives who were alive when the person died have standing:

Artículo cuarto

Uno. El ejercicio de las acciones de protección civil del honor, la intimidad o la imagen de una persona fallecida corresponde a quien ésta haya designado a tal efecto en su testamento. La designación puede recaer en una persona jurídica.

Dos. No existiendo designación o habiendo fallecido la persona designada, estarán legitimados para recabar la protección el cónyuge, los descendientes, ascendientes y hermanos de la persona afectada que viviesen al tiempo de su fallecimiento.

Tres. A falta de todos ellos, el ejercicio de las acciones de protección corresponderá al Ministerio Fiscal, que podrá actuar de oficio a instancia de persona interesada, siempre que no hubieren transcurrido más de ochenta años desde el fallecimiento del afectado. El mismo plazo se observará cuando el ejercicio de las acciones mencionadas corresponda a una persona jurídica designada en testamento.

Fourth article

One. The exercise of civil protection actions for the honour, privacy or image of a deceased person corresponds to whoever he or she has designated for this purpose in his or her will. The designation may fall to a legal entity.

Two. If there is no designation or the designated person has died, the spouse, descendants, ascendants and siblings of the affected person who were living at the time of his death will be entitled to seek protection.

Three. In the absence of all of them, the exercise of protection actions will correspond to the Public Prosecutor's Office, which may act ex officio at the request of an interested person, provided that no more than eighty years have passed since the death of the affected person. The same period will be observed when the exercise of the aforementioned actions corresponds to a legal entity designated in a will.

In summary, the principle "you cannot defame the dead" (stated in other answers), holds in the United States but it's not universal. In Spain, the families of B and C could sue the author to seek redress.

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    Thank you so much for this very useful piece of information. Obviously whether or not B's and C's representatives can make an actionable case is an entirely separate matter. I assume that the inferences in the book would have to be rather severely damaging to the reputation of the dead parties and/or the present-day cordial relations between the two families if persons in the media began to accpet it as fact. I wonder how EU law would impact on the author/publisher if such a case were taken successfully in Spain.
    – Trunk
    Commented Mar 17 at 23:15

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