Hi - my name is XXXXX XXXXX X'X an Intellectual Property litigation attorney. Thanks for your question.
What you're doing in your fictional book would likely be considered a parody.
Generally, a parody can be considered a derivative work under Copyright Law and can be protected from claims by the copyright owner of the original work under the fair use doctrine, which is codified in 17 U.S.C. § 107. Thus, you should be ok there.
Also, because you're not using specific names, it would be very hard for any public figure or celebrity to claim that you were profiting off of their image.
There's a typo above in my original question. I did use the name Bette Midler, not Better Midler as is written above. Boutros Boutros Ghali is also used. Does your answer still apply, parody-wise?
Yes - - these celebrities don't have an exclusive use or ownership of these names. It is entirely possible that there are more than one Bette Midler, Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan, etc. in the world.
However, you don't want to make the character exactly like the real/famous person for a reader to think that you're specifically using a person's celebrity to profit. That's where you can get into an issue. If a celebrity thinks you're using his/her image to profit, you can be sued.
If it is a parody of the famous person, it's generally ok.
OK, then perhaps a slight change of name for Bette Midler, to maybe Brett Midler. BB Ghali I'm willing to risk keeping that as is. But I have one more question and can send another deposit. I am using the Good Witch Gilda as a character. In the Wizard of Oz it was the Good Witch Glinda. My story is about two princesses from a dysfunctional family. This is one of the ending paragraphs -
"Now where were we? Oh yes...So the good witch Gilda gave Dottie a slap in the kisser and said, "SNAP OUT OF IT! You're daydreaming again and this is how you got in this mess to begin with. So which is it, Texas or Kansas?" Just then, the Great and Powerful Wizard, looking much like the delightful and virile Todd from Dottie’s dream, trotted past the terminally short village people..."
Obviously the reference to the Great and Powerful Wizard might need to be changed I'm thinking. Any thoughts the similarities to the Wizard of Oz. Parody-wise I think I'm OK. But I'm sure MGM has a lot of lawyers on staff.
Yes, MGM has a fleet of high-priced attorneys, and even if you may have a legal claim to keep your information as is, you can be brow-beaten with a lawsuit which would cost you a lot of money to defend.....and even if you win, you'll have a huge attorney fee to contend with.
Thus, it's usually better to try and differentiate your language, imagery and descriptive terms to prevent a challenge. So, changing the adjectives about the wizard is probably a good idea!
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