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Copyright law and historical fiction?

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boblo
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Copyright law and historical fiction?

Post by boblo » Mon April 9th, 2012, 1:49 pm

In 1843 a woman was accused of murdering her sister-in-law and baby niece. She was tried 3 times, sentenced to hang, and was eventually found innocent and lived quietly afterwards until 1902. Her story has been told repeatedly in newspapers and blogs, including several in the last few years. However, the facts were public and the many news reports of these events reveal nothing new or creative in the various articles. To my knowledge, no one has ever attempted a fiction version. It was a horrible crime, very widely known and followed at the time, similar to the Lizzie Borden legend in its impact.

I plan to write an historical crime novel on this story using real names and characters and, of course, inventing some characters and events that may or may not have happened.

I understand that libel is not an issue for someone long dead (I'm not sure about any descendants that might still be alive). Is that true? Also, do I have to worry about violating copyright for the reporters that told this story many times in newspapers, magazines & blogs? I could change names and location, but I think it would be far more interesting to the marketplace if I used the real information as the basis for the plot.

Any and all advice would be appreciated.

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boswellbaxter
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Post by boswellbaxter » Mon April 9th, 2012, 4:29 pm

Personally, I don't see any difficulty as long as you avoid bringing any living descendants into the story. If you're basing your novel on theories developed by modern writers (including bloggers) it would be proper to give them credit for their ideas in your author's note, but I don't see any copyright issues arising from using contemporary newspaper accounts.
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boblo
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Post by boblo » Tue April 10th, 2012, 1:47 pm

This will be my first historical novel, so the nuances of the legal issues are new to me. I now feel comfortable in moving ahead. Thanks for your comments.

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Helen_Davis

Post by Helen_Davis » Sun August 19th, 2012, 8:43 pm

You can't libel the dead. And if anyone is accused of libel, truth is an absolute response.

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