Writing a biography is a tricky affair as it requires a lot of things to be taken into consideration so as to avoid wasting your valuable time or ending up in a legal dispute with others.
This article carefully identified and explained why you do need permission before writing a biography, things to do, and those you should avoid.
Can I right a biography without permission?
Absolutely yes!, Legally, you can write a biography about a particular person without seeking permission or approval from him or her.
There is no legal requirement for you to write a biography on anyone in the world, whether he or she is a president, military leader, movie icon, sports legend, or other.
As long as you can write a well-researched, factual, and objective-based biography without false accusations or deliberate distortions, you can go ahead and do it.
But, in order to be covered from all angles, below are the things you need to consider, their merits and demerits, in order to escape from falling into legal problems.
Merits of writing biography without permission.
What are the merits of writing a biography without seeking permission?
1. It saves time.
The time that will be wasted seeking the approval of the person (if the person is alive) or relatives of the person may be used for other important things.
Considering it takes a lot of time to write a biography, using the period to do research will be more beneficial in the long run.
2. Give focus to research.
Not seeking permission gives the writer more time to focus on doing the most important thing in any activity, which is starting.
By focusing on research alone, the writer will have a better chance of providing a comprehensive and factual biography that will benefit both the subject, the reader, the publishers, and the writer himself.
3. It eliminates subject tracking.
Getting the location, address, and booking appointment with the subject or relatives of the subject takes a lot of time, energy, and huge resources.
By not seeking permission, the writer eliminates all these depressing and resource-consuming activities from his or her shoulders.
Demerits of writing biography without permission.
What is the downside of not seeking permission before writing a biography?
1. Research gets hard.
Doing research becomes extra hard for the writer as a result of the failure of the writer to get approval from the subject or relatives that are in custody of such information.
There are certain things, such as pictures, files, and family history, that are very hard to get if the person or relatives are not involved.
Digging for information is usually time-consuming.
Due to the writers’ action of not seeking permission, the time it will take to publish the biography is increased.
Seeking information will cost the writer a lot of time, which will affect the speed of the project life span.
3. Getting reliable sources is difficult.
Getting sources becomes extra hard for the writer when permission is not obtained for the purpose of the biography.
Families, colleagues, friends, and servants of the subject may not likely cooperate to give the writer the desired information.
So as to avoid costly mistakes, all sources given will be thoroughly examined to verify their accuracy before publication.
4. Prone to mistakes.
The probability of making a mistake in a biography that is unauthorised is very high.
The writer is constrained to credible information, which may cost the writer both money and verification.
This information is sometimes not accurate and mistakes will likely occur due to the lack of involvement of the subject.
5. Fear of legal action.
The writer will always be afraid of being taken to court as a result of things in the biography.
The writer will not always be at ease, especially in the first few months after publishing the biography.
This can have a negative effect on the writers’ health and psychological well-being.
Legal consequences and likely charges.
When a biography is published without the consent and approval of the subjects or relatives of the subject, legal issues such as the following will arise:
Libel is the act of writing false statements, pictures, or any visual symbols in both print and electronic media that causes injury to the character and integrity of a person.
A person can sue the writer in court if any statement or picture is false or shows a false meaning.
2. Breach of the right to privacy.
The person whose biography is written without permission can sue both the writer and the publisher if he or she thinks that those rights have been infringed upon by the biography.
Some people prefer to keep their lives and affairs away from the public space.
Therefore, the writer needs to take this into consideration before writing about that individual.
3. Personal injury.
Another likely court charge against the writer is if the person whose biography is written can show the court harm done to him or her as a result of the biography.
4. Copyright violations.
The United States and many other countries have strong laws put in place against copyright violations.
If the biography uses quotes from an already published work, they can be sued for infringement of copyright laws.
If the person is a song writer, singer, or actor, certain quotes have been registered as copyrighted items. Any quotation without the approval of the copyright owners can lead to a legal problem.
5. Security breach.
The writer can be sued by the person or relatives if the statement or sections from the biography mention things that are used by others to breach security.
Things like floor plans of the house, jewelry, security architecture of the area, or anything that can be used by others as a means to get access to the person or properties.
The writer needs to refrain from disclosing this type of information in the biography.
6. Right of publicity.
It is an established fact that the right to publicity “prevents the unauthorised commercial use of an individual’s name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one’s persona.”
It gives an individual the exclusive right to license the use of their identity for commercial promotion.
When a biography is written without permission, the individual can decide to sue the writer based on this law.
Therefore, a writer needs to state clearly, without any ambiguity, whether the biography is approved or not.
If the writer fails to, or gives the impression that it is approved by the person while it is not, in order to get more sales and deceive the public, legal action will take place.
7.A breach of confidence.
When the writer publishes some information that was given to him or to another person in confidence, the subject has the right to seek legal damages.
All countries have separate laws with regards to breach of confidence, but here in the United States, it is a crime that can result in a prison sentence if found guilty.
Why will legal action be initiated?
The constitution clearly gives citizens the right to seek redress in a court of justice when their rights have been violated by another.
Unlike some other countries, the United States strongly forbids taking of revenge by an individual.
Legal action is the only recognized method of seeking redress when your rights or the rights of others are violated.
Impact of not seeking permission on publishers.
In all this, what is the impact of such cases and issues on the publishers?.
If they have an existing contractual agreement that stipulates their non-complicity, then they will not be negatively affected.
But if they don’t have one, the following are the likely outcomes:
The publishers may be asked by the court to pay a certain amount of money as damages done to the person as a result of their publications.
2. Recalled of published copies.
The court may grant an order for the recall of all distributed copies across the globe for the information to be removed or to stop further printing, distributing or selling of any copy.
3. Editing of all copies.
The court can also order the publishers to edit the content and remove all areas of dispute from the biography.
This will apply to previously published content that is distributed or sold to the general public.
4. Losing customers.
The publishers may lose some customers based on either principle, anger at being asked to bring back the book they bought or because they see the publishers as no longer trustworthy.
5. Share price reduction.
In the case of big publishers whose shares are traded on the stock exchange or sold to the public, the prices of such shares will decrease as a result of court cases.
6. Long and costly legal battles.
Legal issues sometimes drag on for a few months or years before a settlement will be reached.
Either the publishers are the winners or losers, and court cases are very expensive for both parties.
These legal battles can have a significant negative impact on publishers’ finances, which is bad for any business.
Legal cases are always a distraction to the management and staff of publishing houses.
Due to the uncertainty of winning or losing the case, the management will be distracted from performing duties that can improve the corporate existence of the company.
8. Bad publicity.
In the corporate world, bad publicity damages the image of companies, especially those in print media.
The searchlight will be turned on those companies, which is a very challenging moment.
Publishing companies that have litigations tend to be less trusted by their customers and the general public.
If not handled carefully, this will have negative consequences for the survival of such companies.
Who gets the royalties and rights in a biography?
The rights and ownership of a biography can be distributed as follows:
1. Sole ownership.
The publishers, the writer, or the person whose biography is the subject can reach an agreement on who owns the rights.
The publishers can obtain the rights so that they can publish the biography for free.
Alternatively, either the author or the subject of the subject can own the biography, but he or she must bear all costs associated with publication and distribution.
The author and publisher, depending on their agreement, can share the ownership rights to the biography between themselves based on an agreed formula.
The rights to the biography can be waived by the author to the publishers,orphanages, foundations, or any charitable cause.
How to get permission before writing a biography.
If the subject of the intended biography is alive, contact his email address, send mail to his or her office, and book an appointment if possible.
Explain to the person why you should be allowed to write the biography and how it will benefit the public.
If you receive no reply, send a reminder but do not bombard the person’s inbox with messages.
If you do, the possibility of denying your request is higher than approval.
If you can’t get access to the person, look for his or her friends, colleagues, or family members to help deliver your request.
Merits of getting permission from the person.
1. Increase publicity.
By getting the permission of the subject, the chances of telling his friends, colleagues, staff, and family are very high.
Due to his or her influence and the status of friends, the chances of getting higher and more visibility are enhanced.
2. Access to relevant information.
By obtaining the permission, the writer may easily get access to documents, files, pictures, and other necessary information that will help in the successful completion of the biography.
3. It also removes the possibility of legal action.
The chances of getting sued after publication are reduced to a minimum due to the inputs, corrections of facts, and necessary advice from the subject.
These will ensure that all errors, mistakes, and harmful information are removed before it gets to the publishers.
4. Free advert.
There is a likely chance of the subject posting and sharing the publications on social media.
This will boost sales and add authenticity to the biography.
If the subject is not alive, friends and family will help share it as an honour to the subject of the biography.
5. Ethically sound.
Obtaining permission is more appreciated morally and ethically.
The writer will have no doubts about getting dragged into a legal battle that will put a dent in his finances and reputation.
Demerits of obtaining permission.
1. It is difficult if the person is dead.
Getting permission is not possible if the person is long dead.
If a writer wanted to write a biography of George Washington, Frank Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill, getting permission was impossible.
Moreover, looking to their families for approval or fear of legal issues is not an option.
The best thing is for the writer to dig for information that may help him or her write the best possible biography.
Another Disadvantage of seeking permission is the lack of a guarantee of getting the approval even after all the procedures the writer may have passed through.
Some writers may spend more than two years looking for an appointment to seek for approval, and at the end of the day, the person may turn the writer down.
Impact of getting permission on publishers.
1.Free from legal issues.
When a writer obtains permission to use the biography, the publisher will discard any misgivings with regard to possiblity of litigation.
2.Absence of distractions.
The presence of permission gives the management the ability to concentrate fully on things that will improve the publishing brand instead of having their attention divided on litigation.
10 examples of unauthorised biographies.
- Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography, by Andrew Morton.
- Ghislaine Maxwell: An Unauthorized Biography: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein’s Alleged Madam, by Kirby Sommers.
- Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, by Mary L. Trump.
- Phil: The Wild (and Unauthorized! Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar, by Alan Shipnuck.
- Becoming Beyoncé, by J. Randy Taraborrelli.
- A Short Unauthorized Biography is a short unauthorized biography of Chris Hemsworth, by fame life bios.
- Life of the Party: The Biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, by Christopher Ogden.
- Queen: The Unauthorized Biography (Band Bios), by Soledad Romero Mario.
- The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, by Kitty Kelley
10 examples of authorised biographies.
- The Ox: The Last of the Great Rock Stars: The Authorised Biography of The Who’s John Entwistle, by Paul Rees.
- Mandela: The Authorised Biography, by Anthony Sampson.
- So Much for the 30 Year Plan: Therapy? The Authorised Biography by Simon Young.
- George Orwell: The Authorised Biography, by Shelden Michael.
- Music is the Drug: The Authorised Biography of The Cowboy Junkies, by Dave Bowler.
- The Queen Of Indian Pop: The Authorised Biography Of Usha Uthup, by Vikas Kumar Jha.
- The Life of Graham: The Authorised Biography of Graham Chapman, by Bob McCabe.
- The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Jem Roberts.
- A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson, Translator of The Message, by Winn Collier
- Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: Volume I: From Grantham to the Falklands, by Charles Moore.
Legal cases in the past about unauthorised biographies.
- In August 1994, Elizabeth Taylor filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles.
- Counties Superior Court vs. National Broadcasting Company(“NBC”), claiming trademark infringement and invasion of privacy based on an unauthorized biography of her life.
- Wiseman v. Commonwealth; Carson v. CommonwealthHere’s Johnny Portable Toilets.
- IncZacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting,Co., “8 The Supreme Court addressed the issue of appropriation of the Right of publicity
Based on all the factors discussed above, their merits and demerits, the legal implications, and the examples of legal cases we identified, writing a biography without permission is allowed.
Suffice to that, when next someone ask can I write a biography without permission?, you have the most comprehensive answer to give the person and the reasons to back them up.