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Memoirists and nonfiction writers identify people by name.

How can writers use real people in their work without risking a lawsuit? If what you write about a person is positive or even neutral, then you don’t have defamation or privacy issues.

For instance, you may thank someone by name in your acknowledgements without their permission.

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Scarlett Johansson won a defamation suit against a French writer for creating a promiscuous character who happened to look like the movie star.

Typically, these cases involve incest, rape, abuse, or a serious disease or impairment. Even if the information is highly offensive, courts often decide there is no legal liability if the information is of public interest.

Public interest does not mean high-brow or intellectual.

Typically, the target must be a living person, but companies and organizations have sued for defamation.

Oprah Winfrey was sued by a group of Texas ranchers after saying she had sworn off hamburgers because of mad cow disease.

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