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Truth and Lives on Film: The Legal Problems in Depicting Real Persons and Events in a Fictional Medium
From the advent of cinema, Hollywood’s acquaintance with the unbridled 
truth has been passing, at best. Nonfiction has always been standard 
fodder for filmmakers, but rare is the screenwriter who ever met a story 
that couldn’t use a touch of embellishment. As early as the silent film 
era, lawsuits were filed against movie studios for their fictitious 
depictions of purportedly real events. The moviemakers claim artistic 
license; as Picasso said, "Art is a lie that tells the truth." When the 
lie and the truth become inextricably mixed, the effect on the lives of 
the people involved can be dramatic, even devastating.
The first lawsuit claiming a libelous onscreen portrayal of a real person 
was filed in 1916, and the debate about filmmakers’ responsibilities when 
depicting real people and events has raged ever since. This examination 
of fact-based films and the law begins with a history of the legal issues 
surrounding the fictionalization of real events and people. The court 
case over The Perfect Storm—a film that spawned lawsuits from the 
families of the people depicted in the film—is then explored in depth. 
The next chapter analyzes fact versus fiction in 13 courtroom dramas, 
movies for which court documents provide clear historical records. A 
chapter devoted to actors so identified with a character that they sought 
legal acknowledgment of exclusive rights to that fictional persona 
follows. Notes, a bibliography and an index accompany the text. 

The book was published by McFarland Press in 2005. The updated second edition was published June 2022. Order information is available at