I don't know if anyone read the article in the May issue of the Los Angeles Lawyer or not, but I found it very interesting and wanted to share some of the highlights with you.
The article is called "Real Characters" and was written by Lee S. Brenner, Edward E. Weiman and Andrew W. Defrancis. The main point of the article is is whether or not a 'character' is written by a fiction author to resemble a real person a bit too closely.
According to the article, most of the lawsuits regarding this issue has been brought in California and New York. The articles sites many cases where "lawsuits claiming libel in fiction are decided on the basis of whether the work is "of and concerning" the plaintiff" (Brenner, Weiman and Defrancis 40). Meaning, if the character in a fiction novel looks too much like the real person.
For example, the plaintiff in the 2003 New York case Carter-Clark v. Random House, Inc. brought a lawsuit based on the book "Primary Colors" that "was admittedly based on Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign" (Brenner, Weiman and Defrancis 43). The plaintiff believe that one of the characters in this novel was modeled after her, "and that the character had apparently engaged in sexual activity with the Clinton character while he was running for president" (Brenner, Weiman and Defrancis 43). The court found for the defendant in this matter.
Another case that caught my attention was that of Batra v. Wolf, a 2008 New York matter. This was centered around a Law & Order episode featuring a New York attorney by the name of Ravi Batra. On the show and in real life, Ravi is the real name. The episode's character Ravi Batra was apparently, too close to real Ravi. On the show, Ravi Batra was a New York attorney who bribed a judge. In real life, Ravi is a New York attorney, but one who did not bribe any judges. Feeling the aspersion portrayed his real life in a bad light, Ravi sued. "The court noted that the character and the plaintiff had the same unusual first name, were the same ethnicity (Indian-American), had the same job (attorney in New York), and the same general appearance" (Brenner, Weiman and Defrancis 44).
There are many cases discussed in this article and I encourage fiction writers to read it. Many libel-in-fictions cases are presently being dismissed, but fictional writers are warned to be careful. This issue is a real one for fictional writers, one that should be paid attention to.
Brenner, Lee S, Weiman, Edward E. and Defrancis, Andrew W. "Real Characters." Los Angeles Lawyer May 2012: 40-45.