The Law is an Ass
I won’t, after all, be calling my first novel The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile. That’s a shame. I felt it was the best and most evocative title I had come up with.
But it had to happen, I suppose. That’s what you get when you ask a lawyer. Here’s the general drift: It would be 99% safe, or thereabouts, to use Julia’s name but, in view of the residual 1%, my legal friend could not in all conscience advise me to proceed. Litigation on matters like this is far more common in the US than the UK and Julia, if she took me to court, would have marginally more funds at her disposal than yours truly etc. etc. In addition, she has, it seems, been known to sue unwanted intruders like me. She is, in other words. not always as sweet as in Notting Hill. More like Erin Brockovich, by the sound of it.
I can’t argue with this. My adviser, one of the UK’s foremost media lawyers, regularly deals with issues like this and he helpfully set out the background to his advice in intricate detail, quoting specific cases. While admitting that, for example, the old song Bette Davis Eyes never led to successful prosecutions, he still felt that, on balance. it would be unwise for me to go ahead.
I accept his advice, of course. If you ask a top expert for guidance, you’re crazy not to follow it. Julia wasn’t central to my novel, anyway – the Julia Roberts smile was only mentioned twice (very briefly) in the body of the MS. So, out goes Julia and on goes the old thinking cap as the search for a title resumes. My second last effort was The Girl with the Haunting Smile. Maybe that’s where it will end up.
It gives rise to an interesting debate, though. It’ is accepted practice, even in an unauthorised biography, to use a real person’s name in the title and throughout the text. Why, then, can’t you safely use a real person’s name in the title of a novel, especially if (as was the case with mine) any reference to that person is highly complimentary?