Illegal or not?

Asked over 1 year ago - Los Angeles, CA

When writing a screenplay based off a mafia family, Could I use the name of the actual real life people. Are could I get into some type of trouble for using real names? Also, after researching as much information as possible, would it be breaking any rules if i added in what i think happed to the best of my knowledge for certai missing parts and scences. Like conversation between certain ppl, the story is based losely on a crime mob family.

Attorney answers (5)

  1. Bruce E. Burdick

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    4

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Q:"When writing a screenplay based off a mafia family, Could I use the name of the actual real life people. Are could I get into some type of trouble for using real names? "
    A: Could you get in trouble if you mess with the Mafia? Surely you jest!
    You usah our names we breakah you neck. We make an offa ya dunna wanna refusa. LOL
    Seriously though, criminals don't tend to go to court to and assert that they are criminals and you are violating their publicity rights as criminals. They more likely will sue you for defamation and deny it or you will be quietly informed by some thug that you should not use real names for personal safety reasons perhaps with a demonstration in some small way of what that means so you get the point. What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you need to use real names even if you knew them? What an incredibly brave but dumb plan. You want to accuse people of being Mafia members and wonder if that might lead to trouble for you. Yes if you are wrong. Yes if you are right.

    Q:"Also, after researching as much information as possible, would it be breaking any rules if i added in what i think happed to the best of my knowledge for certai missing parts and scences. Like conversation between certain ppl, the story is based losely on a crime mob family."
    A: No, that is what fictional pseudo documentaries are all about. If you survive to tell the story, let us know where you hid and what aliases you had to use.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is... more
  2. Frank A. Natoli

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    4

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Hi,

    I agree with Bruce. In general, you are free to write what you want. If you write about real people and use their names you run the risk that they will take offense. If you say things that are not true they can bring actions of defamation. They may bring such an action irrespective of the truth and force you to defend yourself.

    Writing about a criminal organization comes with other risks if they are still active and care about their public image. As my colleague aptly notes, they are not likely going to go to court but they still make life difficult in other ways.

    If you are a serious writer and really intend on doing this properly you should discuss your plans in more detail with your own lawyer so you can get the proper guidance. Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.

    Best regards,
    Frank
    Natoli-Lapin, LLC
    (see Disclaimer)

    The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the... more
  3. Randall B. Bateman

    Contributor Level 5

    3

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . A fictional account seems much safer. You also have to be very careful that you do not defame the people involved. Assuming they use the legal system, instead of other obvious alternatives, you may be asking for large legal bills if anyone thinks they have been libeled or slandered.

    This is not legal advice. The facts of every case are different and should be addressed by a competent attorney.
  4. Robert Pecco Baker

    Contributor Level 13

    1

    Lawyer agrees

    Answered . Yeah, you could get in trouble for making a movie about the mafia and using real names. But the legality of your venture would be the least of your worries. the kind of trouble am thinking of usually involves no appeal.

    Also, based upon your question, I assume that this is not a serious issue but a gag by a student.

  5. Maurice N Ross

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    1

    Lawyer agrees

    Answered . This may be my favorite Avvo question of all time.

    First the legal stuff. If your screenplay is true and accurate, then you certainly can legally use the names. The problem, however, is that if your screenplay contains false information (including false allegations that someone is a member of a "family" when that person denies that it is so), you could be sued for libel (defamation). You can bet your bottom dollar that one or more of the people who you identify will sue you for defamation claiming that you had no reasonable basis for alleging that they are part of the "family".

    Of course, if you make a fictional story about a mafia family, including fictional conversations and/or your projections about how the family operated, this is perfectly legal. No one owns a copyright on the mere "idea" of a mafia family, and you are free to write an original story concerning a mafia family.

    Now the non-legal and practical stuff. As I am sure you know, some of the folks who are members of these families are not particularly trustworthy and they have violent tendencies. You don't want to upset them, because they have a way of silencing those who get in their way or cause them problems. Contrary to conventional wisdom, very few members of organized crime want to become public celebrities---rather, their "business" operations are much more successful if they remain under the radar, Thus, nothing will make these folks more unhappy than if a book is released that discloses their identifies to the public and accuses them of engaging in various unsavory business practices. Do you really want to make these people unhappy? I'm just a lawyer and it is not my decision, but if i were you I would write a fictional story with fictional names. Did you know that prosecutors who pursue mob cases in court often are given body guards and various other forms of police protection? There is a good reason for this.

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