A high school teacher of mine published a book recently that described aspects of his teaching experience in an affluent suburb of New York City. I had him as a teacher over 10 years ago and he included me in his book as a character. I was far from honored. My character stood out because he included very private and highly sensitive identifiable information about me. His book records in great detail events that happened when I was a minor and also includes my own writings. I never gave him permission nor was I ever aware he was going to exploit me like that. The man died a few months after his book was published, but I would like for the publishers to stop printing the book.
Intellectual Property Law Attorney
There are three separate issues, potentially, covered by your question. I come out thinking you should speak with a NJ intellectual property lawyer.
First, your question suggests that the author of a book has published enough accurate details relating to your persona as to allow you to be identified by readers (at least in your immediate community) and, moreover, to include other details which paint you in an inaccurate and negative light.
Some states recognize a common law right of publicity, under which an individual can block the use of their name, likeness, or recognizable aspects of his or her persona for commercial purposes. Arguable, selling a book would qualify as a public purpose and so you could hire an attorney in the state you live (New Jersey) with a view towards suing for an injunction against further publication, sale and distribution of the book.
New Jersey courts once viewed the right of publicity as a privacy right. However, these days privacy law is a separately developed body of law, and the right of publicity is viewed as a property-based
right - and therefore subject to an individual's right to grant permission (by license) to the use of their name, license, or recognizable persona, or to withhold such permission. Here, you would be looking for an injunction, and would have to make the argument that the aspects of your persona referred to in the book are so apparent and obvious to the target audience for the book.
Second, there is privacy aspect. NJ does have a separate body of privacy law. You characterize the information as highly sensitive, which could trigger the separate protections afforded under NJ's privacy laws. However, there is not enough information to address that here.
Finally, there is a copyright aspect to your question. You mention that the book "includes my own writings". If this is true, then you have an act of copyright infringement (which is why I suggested such a lawyer for your particular matter). An intellectual property attorney can help you register your writings so that you can bring legal action for copyright infringement. This will increase your leverage in negotiations (it will raise the stakes of the dispute and possibly lead to a settlement which gives you the actual relief you are looking for without an actual protacted legal battle).
(McFarland v. Miller, 14 F.3d 912 (3d Cir. 1994)). The court
in Canessa v. J.I. Kislak clarified that as long as a plaintiff’s claim
is based on the appropriation of his likeness and name for the
defendant’s commercial benefit, it is an action for invasion of his
property rights rather than injury to the person (235 A.2d 62 (N.J.
Super. Ct. Law Div. 1967)).
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To the extent the book included your own writings, the problem is an intellectual property problem. To the extent the book included private information about you (publication of private facts), the problem is a tort problem. To the extent you have a claim against a dead person, you have a trust and estate litigation problem. I agree with the other answer that you should start with an intellectual property lawyer. You need to act quickly because there are time limits for bringing these kinds of claims, particularly against the estate of a dead person.
I am licensed only in California and this response is provided as general information only. It is not intended to be legal advice. Legal advice must be based on the exact facts of the particular situation, and by necessity this forum is not appropriate for discussion of specific, exact facts. Contact a lawyer for more specific advice. My answer to your question on AVVO does not create an attorney-client relationship.
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Intellectual Property Law Attorney
I think you want to see a NJ-licensed Entertainment Lawyer. Entertainment lawyers deal with these issues on a daily basis, although with celebrities. I think you have little chance of stopping this book unless you are specifically mentioned by name or unless a significant number of people will know it's you he is talking about. If he mentions your name, then I think you have a much stronger case. There are several great NJ-licensed attorneys that post frequently here. One will surface for you. The purpose of these answers on Avvo is to help you find that lawyer. Look at the answers and pick one to call. This is not something you can handle without an attorney.
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.
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As is often the case, you've received excellent, initial guidance here. That said, I see that you are in Glen Rock, NJ. We are in Short Hills, NJ and do cover both law and litigation in the fields of Entertainment and Intellectual Property. I would be happy to preliminarily discuss your matter with you on a complimentary basis. I am a long-time Board member of the NJ Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Assoociation.
I am at:
Terence W. Camp, Esq.
BUDD LARNER, P.C.
150 JFK Parkway
Short Hills, NJ 07078
(973)315-4432 (direct to me with voicemail)
My background and Professional Profile:
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