A newbie author about to place her book up on Kindle, all set to go, and suddenly she freezes up, terrified due to her having created “authentic” settings and naming real people, places, and things—issues like maybe the OJ case, Lady Gaga, Obama, Hanity, Beck, Stewart, Colbert or a local malt shop. Come on, please! Never let FEAR run your book. Below my comments on this issue are the “rules” or many of them (like never use more than six lines of a copyrighted song all in one block in your book), but before you read the “rules” know that libel is hard as hell to prove and malice aforethought nearly impossible to prove (what was going on in his mind when he ‘attacked’ her character?). But by all means you cannot obsess over such an issue and hope to write a decent novel.
While Carla Rene (who has graciously added here the rules of the game to stir clear of being sued) is thorough below and absolutely correct, I have broken just about all of these "rules" of the road at one time or another and guess what, in fact, have never been sued for defamation on any score. While I use real places, real towns, cities in just about every -- no ALL of my fifty ODD books, no one has come charging after me. The Field Museum of Chicago is where a particularly ghastly "reincarnation" of my most awful killer, Mad Matthew Matisak is finally cornered and as he likes to collect human spinal cords for his unusual splatterpunk art showings, his death comes at the hands of a spinal column when he falls several stories onto the bony protrusions of a dinosaur display while all the monied patrons of the Field Museum are sipping their wine and listening to a private lecture this evening. I do not expect to hear from the Field Musuem as they were in no way defamed. If I have any prejudice it is against the rich--whom I privately do detest.
I have also routinely placed names of people in my books who have won contests to be there with the caveat they just might die in the book. Titanic 2012 a lead character has to go but her namesake won a contest I ran for the privilege. I also have a poker game going on while Titanic is going down and the band is playing wherein all the guys around the table are writer friends, all named by name. Year ago Steve Savile who is cranking out novels and novellas left and right now won a contest, so he is both in my books for two reasons, friend author and contest winner in more than one book, and I once armed Joe Konrath in an Instinct title, giving him a gun! He is among those going down with Titanic around the poker game that deteriorates into a brawl that only Inspector Alastair Ransom can win. Among the authors Ransom beats down is one named Walker as well. I also pull the infamous/famous Capt. Edward Smith down from the pedestal that history and legend has afforded him in Titanic 2012. I could not have done that if I was paralyzed by fear that his ancestors today might come after me with a law suit for defaming a dead man. For that matter, the descendants of Nathaniel and Judge Hawthorn(e) or Cotton and Increase Mather or anyone named Putnam (maybe the publisher Putnam) will come after me for a writ of execution for what I said about these family names in Children of Salem? Sure...I am shaking in my boots. They're all long dead for one thing so even if I were malicious it can't hurt them!
There is hardly a product I have not used in my novels--just as Stephen King utilizes Excedrin and Coca-Cola, as serial killers and nutbags have to eat and drink and stave off those headaches as well as anyone. Aloha airlines gets pegged for bad service or poor peanuts if the setting is Hawaii, and if in London there are the shops now aren't there but I also created a cathedral out of a church on a certain street and cemetery only because I really loved the name of the place. I don't attribute blame or cause to any of these places, and just because the killer is a big Elvis fan, I don't attribute his killings to have been motivated by Elvis' music or Gordon Lightfoot for that matter but they all run through my books as they run through life.
Bottom line is KNOW the rules as Carla has laid them out here and then judiciously put them aside because no one can write well worrying about them. I ignore them just as much as I ignore the worry that my mother will read this shit. Fact is, my eighty-five year old mom DOES read all my books and she peeks over the top, checks me out, mentally saying, "OMG, did this come out of my womb?"
Anyone who remain at all interested in this subject -- just write your book without malice aforethought toward anyone--a thing near impossible to prove and trust that court costs will bounce back to any idiot who thinks otherwise.