I watched many American movies in which they tell about a person who writes a personal real life story of his best friend without his acknowledgement.

And the movies said that person is wrong and in some cases his best friend can sue him to the court.

Is writing a real-life story about a person is illegal in USA?

If so, does it matter if that person changes the names of the characters in the story, so that no-one can have an evidence that he was writing about his best friend?

  • There is nothing illegal about writing a biography of someone.
    – Mohair
    Dec 23, 2015 at 18:35

2 Answers 2


Tortious publication of private facts is a doctrine that could get a person in trouble. There is no truth-defense to this tort. However, famous people have a hard time enforcing this one because newsworthiness is a defense and courts often find that facts about famous people are newsworthy (and most movies or books about people who are worth the effort of creation are about famous people).

Right to Publicity is another. This basically says that people have a sort of trademark over their personality and it is analyzed much like trademark infringement. Of note is that this is a property right rather than a tort.


You can write whatever you like about whoever you like, however, if what you write is defamatory, you can be sued. A defamatory statement is one which:

  1. Is untrue
  2. Identifies the person. Not necessarily unambiguously; a true statement about John Smith (A) can be actionable by a different John Smith (B) if a reasonable person could think it was about them. Identification does not have the be by name - if a reasonable person can work out who you are writing about then that is enough.
  3. Is damaging to the person's reputation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.