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Ilda de Sousa
We are now officially in the run up to Christmas. One of the many signs of this is the sudden appearance of a spate of celebrity autobiographies. Not only are these autobiographies now hitting the shelves, but in many cases, the contents of the books are trailed by a series of extracts published in selected newspapers.
One of the main selling points of celebrity autobiographies is the often lurid revelations contained in such books about other public figures. There has been a great deal of coverage in the press, spread over many days, on the comments made about colleagues by Kevin Pietersen, Roy Keane, and Rio Ferdinand, for example. It is not just sporting autobiographies which hit the headlines – stories have also recently appeared in the press arising from the publication of autobiographies by Kelly Brook and Lord Tim Bell.
Before publication, lawyers will no doubt have carefully reviewed these books to ensure that the published statements are legal. But what do you do if you are wrongly named and shamed in a celebrity’s autobiography?
You may have a claim, on which a Court can award damages, and an injunction restraining future publication of the offending material, if:
A few issues which are worth noting:
The best stage at which to take action would of course be prior to publication. You may become aware that a book is being written which contains allegations about you. It might be via press “teasers” such as those discussed above. Or the publisher might even contact you if you are named in a book prior to the publication, to seek your side of the story (and thereby reduce their libel risk). However, they have no duty to do so - this was confirmed following an unsuccessful attempt by Max Mosley to obtain a right to “prior notification” at the European Court of Human Rights.
If you do become aware of the possibility of unsavoury allegations being published about you, the key is to seek immediate advice from lawyers. Any action taken must be swift but carefully considered. There is a risk that an ill-judged and unfairly oppressive restraint attempt itself could be reported on, increasing the book’s sales. It remains difficult (although not impossible) due to free speech laws to obtain an injunction based in libel against publication before a book is published. However an injunction might be obtained if the book infringes privacy rights, for instance. As long as the action taken is well-thought-out, even if it does not prevent publication, it may result in a dilution of what is eventually published.
If the book is not prevented from publication, the next point at which action can be taken is the book’s first print run. If a book contains libellous allegations, unsold copies can be pulled from sale and pulped. Examples from recent years of books withdrawn from sale include biographies of jockey Kieron Fallon and reality starlet Kate Gosselin. Even if the book is not pulled, significant changes might be made to subsequent print runs, including paperback and e-book editions.
In summary, even if you are featured prominently in a celebrity autobiography, by taking prompt and well thought out action, you might be able to avoid being the main topic of conversation around the Christmas dinner table.
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