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T.E. Dittersdorf
03-29-2010, 06:12 AM
Hi all! This is my first post here and I'm very glad to have found this board today.

I've finished a memoir and I'm in the process of revising.

For the memoir, I'm wondering what legal concerns I should address because I basically wrote about my time in a cult/religious community that I am no longer formally involved in.

Despite many critics of the guru I was involved with I actually have nothing but good words about the now deceased guru of this group, and I don't have any dirt about any inner circle stuff. What IS there is my personal trails and tribulations in attempting to live this lifestyle and spiritual practice. I also describe what is was like to sit with this spiritual teacher/guru in meditation and live on retreat in his community. The guru figure had some legal troubles in the 80's and was a public figure for a short while. But I don't even mention that.

Still, I'm not sure how one gets permission to write about a past religious community. I've been researching but have found no clear answers yet. I suppose that would be up to a lawyer to decide.

I purposely left out a lot of negative stuff about said community and guru because my focus was on my path in-and-through this lifestyle into a different life. I wrote without even imagining I would publish but now I'm tempted.

Has anyone here wrote about a cult-like experience?

Smiling Ted
03-29-2010, 06:35 AM
If you're worried about legal issues - slander/libel, etc. - your best bet isn't here. You should get advice from experts in the field, because your exposure is *big.* Do yourself a favor - get a lawyer, or call up a professor at a school for journalism.

Wayne K
03-29-2010, 06:46 AM
The truth is an absolute defense if someone does sue you.

PGK
03-29-2010, 09:08 AM
Though I completely agree that no advice here can top that of a legal expert I'd say that as long as you're recounting events you had firsthand knowledge about you're (almost) fine. I say almost because in the process you can still "defame" someone who might want to sue you for it and in that case you would probably need to show some sort of evidence backing your story up.

I could write volumes about the last university I worked at, and most of it would be enough to tarnish their reputation beyond repair and land quite a few people behind bars. I know it's all true because I was there, I saw it, I heard it, I read the memos, I read the emails, and I discussed some of it at length with those involved. BUT I have no hard, physical proof of it. A good investigator good probably dig up the facts (and I know several former employees who claim to have such evidence in their possession), but I personally do not and I'd running a high risk pursuing such a book.

I'm not a legal expert, but I did discuss my case at length with one (not about writing a book, but about bringing it all to light) and in the end her advice was to leave it alone. I'm not recommending you leave it alone, but a consultation fee for a lawyer's opinion is potential peanuts compared to a successful publication.

Shwebb
03-29-2010, 10:01 AM
Yes, as has already been mentioned--if you tell only the truth, you aren't guilty of libel (slander is verbal, libel is written). Notice I didn't say "can't be sued for" because people can and will sue whether or not the defendant is guilty.

If it's not important who the guru or the people you were with were, you can change the names and mix things up enough so that they aren't so recognizable in the story. Although there's still a chance you could be sued anyway (Augusten Burroughs was still sued for Running With Scissors because he didn't disguise the people in his story enough; people were apparently easily able to figure it out, anyway.)

My advice would be to worry about the details later; if you find an agent and a publisher you all can iron out the particulars down the road.

Although another factor with regard to libel is that they must prove malicious intent and the information you write has to be such that it would malign them and affect them negatively in the public eye. It has to be defamatory, not just negative or offensive.

But I would be inclined to think that publishing companies have a rather large legal department that deals with these issues regularly, too.

DrZoidberg
03-29-2010, 12:13 PM
You can get sued with libel even if you only tell the truth. I'm no legal expert, but the issue is whether or not the book can be proven to have directly caused harm to someone in some measurable way that the court cares about. Not the truth.

Step 1) Get a lawyer.
Step 2) Be wary of advice from random people on the Internet (that you don't know and have no vested interest other than to entertain by giving the impression of their vast knowledge ;) on the net).

If I were you I'd ask myself if they would like to sue you based on what is in the book. Considering that you created this thread, I'm guessing the answer is yes. Lawyers only cost money when you do use them. It costs nothing to be prepared for that eventuality. Find a guy to call when the shit hits the fan just in case. You have very little to lose by taking that precaution.

That's my advice
/random Internet dude

shaldna
03-29-2010, 02:03 PM
You can get sued with libel even if you only tell the truth. I'm no legal expert, but the issue is whether or not the book can be proven to have directly caused harm to someone in some measurable way that the court cares about. Not the truth.

Step 1) Get a lawyer.
Step 2) Be wary of advice from random people on the Internet (that you don't know and have no vested interest other than to entertain by giving the impression of their vast knowledge ;) on the net).



This is the best advice.

T.E. Dittersdorf
03-29-2010, 08:56 PM
Wow...thanks so much for this discussion everyone! It really helps my consideration.

The more I ponder this the more it seems that keeping the actual story unpublished and only making private copies for family and friends is the way to go.

I am in the process of fictionalizing every detail, place and even spiritual teaching and make a novel out of the experience instead. I have been working on this version alongside the non-fiction version and think it has some potential.

PeterL
03-29-2010, 09:31 PM
Wow...thanks so much for this discussion everyone! It really helps my consideration.

The more I ponder this the more it seems that keeping the actual story unpublished and only making private copies for family and friends is the way to go.

I am in the process of fictionalizing every detail, place and even spiritual teaching and make a novel out of the experience instead. I have been working on this version alongside the non-fiction version and think it has some potential.

Don't be scared away. The worst anyone can do is sue and win. The court would decide damages, and I doubt that the damages would be noticeable, if oyu were strictly truthful. Many libel suits results in non-cash awards that might require a disclaimer, or similar, in future editions. Find a lawyer who can give you some clearer guidance.

Shwebb
03-30-2010, 02:02 AM
Regarding taking advice from some dude(s) on the internet--I'm hoping that it wouldn't need explanation that one would and should check out any advice with a professional before charging ahead. There's that old saying, "You get what you pay for." And since the advice here is free . . . well, you do the math.

And regarding the legal definition of libel and slander, yes--in order to sue successfully, the plaintiff (the person suing) would have to prove that what was written or said about the person was untrue. In addition, he/she would have to prove maliciousness; or with journalists, negligence in gathering complete information regarding a statement's truthfulness.

Now--as I said before, one can sue another person regardless of proving the above. Hopefully the suit will be dismissed without merit, if he/she isn't able to prove the conditions. And lawsuits, whether or not the judgment is in your favor, can cost a great deal of money.

(BTW, my brother is an attorney. But I still don't claim to give legal advice, even when asking him directly about legal issues.) ;-)

Yet another thing to consider is that even if you have given no reason for you to be sued, will any information hurt another person who is still living and who you would hate to cause pain? In that case it might be wise to wait for those folks to pass away before attempting to publish. (I'm saying this not for this particular instance. I'm making a general statement.)l

T.E. Dittersdorf
03-30-2010, 10:54 PM
Again, this has all been so helpful. My uncle is a lawyer so I may ask him for advice or referrel...it would be nice to just to see my options anyways...

I feel my story is not really about the group so I left out the negativity, but as I've read here, you can still upset someone--seems there is no formula to know when or how.