Libel. To defame someone by an opinion or a misquote and put his or her reputation in jeopardy. To clarify, written or published defamation is libel, spoken defamation is considered slander. Although writers often worry that they will be accused of libel if they say anything negative about anyone, they need to know that there are very specific criteria necessary for any such statements to be libelous. (1) Defamation: What you say through the printed word must basically be untrue—a lie. (2) Identification: What is printed must make it obvious to the reader who the person is being targeted. And finally, (3) whatever statements are made must actually be printed in some form available to readers.
Those most open to libel accusations are those who write expose books, or newspaper articles in which they accuse a politician or another of corruption of some kind. Because of the legal nature of this topic, we will not go into any specific detail concerning libel suits. We suggest you do online research on the topic and then contact a lawyer if this becomes a legal issue for you. For more legal details, go to: http://www.legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/criminal+libel.
Libel clause. A book contract will include a clause to which you swear that the book contains nothing scandalous, libelous, or unlawful. A typical contract will also say that if it turns out that it does, you will hold the publisher blameless—since they took you at your word. In other words, if there is suit for damages, the responsibility will be yours—the publisher cannot be sued. If your book includes the real names of people along with their actions, the publisher is likely to ask for their written permission to include them in the book. If they don't give it, you will either have to drop the reference to them, or change the names. If it comes to the point of changing names, be sure that they cannot be identified simply by their actions. For a more detailed look at the libel clause, go to: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/libel.
Excerpts for The Writing World Defined--A to Z (www.stuartmarket.com)