Stealing Roberta

For legal reasons I don’t fully understand, this disclaimer is in the front material of Perion Synthetics:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, persons living, dead, or synthetic, is purely coincidental.

It’s generally not a good idea to use real people in your stories. As awesome as it would be to have Natalie Portman fighting cybernetic dinosaurs on a dinghy in the South Pacific, she probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to find out about it when your cross-genre erotic fanfic blows up like you just know it will. Profiting from a real person’s likeness (whether they’re an actor or a model or a local anchorwoman) may even get you sued.

Here’s what a lazy Google search turned up:

There are two distinct legal claims that potentially apply to these kinds of unauthorized uses: (1) invasion of privacy through misappropriation of name or likeness (“misappropriation”); and (2) violation of the right of publicity. (The “right of publicity” is the right of a person to control and make money from the commercial use of his or her identity.)
Source: Digital Media Law Project

In the good old days of the Internet, you could use someone else’s work or likeness without attribution, and they would have very little chance of finding out. These days, the Internet is a much smaller place, so if you’re stealing someone else’s stuff, they’re likely going to call you out on it. I used to and still enjoy taking images from DeviantArt and making promotional material for my books. The difference is that now I only share those privately with friends on Facebook. To use them publicly, I need to ask the artist’s permission or pay for the privilege.

While I’ve never used a real person in my stories, I’ve definitely been inspired by a few. This mostly happens as a result of a Science Fiction cliché in which a woman too beautiful for her role enters the picture. In Xronixle, the general look of the Lucienne character was inspired by Luba Shumeyko. In Veneer, some of Ilya’s features were inspired by… someone else. What does it mean to be inspired by someone’s look? I think of it like this:

Alright, G and Natalie are rushing the various security levels of the singularity when a woman as attractive as Luba Shumeyko shows up to stop them.

Sometimes when I write about a location I’ve never been to, I pull up images on Google or go to street view in Google Maps. Then I can just project my story onto what I see. The same works for people; it just helps kick off the imagination process.

A few chapters into Perion Synthetics, Cameron Gray meets a prototype synthetic. When it came time to write that scene, I asked myself:

If a company were to develop a true-to-life synthetic human, what would it look like?

To which my brain answered:

Probably a lot like Roberta Murgo.

When I’m writing a zero draft, I don’t stop to think of better names for characters, so I just named this prototype synthetic Roberta and moved on. When it was time to go back and rewrite, the name had grown on me.

That’s why, when I was messing around one day with the dream cast for the movie version of Perion Synthetics, I made this graphic:

If you click over to my About Me page, the first image shows the individual pictures I printed out and taped to the wall to help keep me motivated during revisions. I eventually showed the above to my Facebook friends just for fun. Later, on a whim, I used it as a throwaway piece of eye candy on a blog post. Surely nothing would come of it, right? I mean, honestly, who reads my blog besides you, Mom?

Yesterday, this happened:

Never in a million years would I have thought I’d get busted by Roberta Murgo. Lucky for me, she was a good sport about it. She even posted the image to her own Facebook page. And she hasn’t sued me yet, so that’s a bonus.

She left a few comments on Tuesday Roundup 7/16, but the one I found most interesting was in regards to her not suing me:

ok! i wont! just please do not refer to me in sexual ways because i am married

It reminded me of when I was having the cover of Perion Synthetics made. In a copyright-free world, I probably would have found a picture of Roberta on the Internet, slapped it on the cover, and called it a day. Instead, I called in a favor from a friend and asked if she would lend her likeness to the cover of my next book.

Having known me since high school, she was smart enough to ask for a synopsis before agreeing, lest there be something in my story that she didn’t want her likeness associated with. Though my friend is not starring in blockbusters or walking the runway, she still has a public image to protect, so you can understand why some people would vigorously defend their right to “control and make money from the commercial use of his or her identity.”

Ultimately, I probably should have kept my Perion Synthetics Dream Cast image to myself.

But then, if I hadn’t posted it, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to trade comments with the woman who inspired the most advanced, beautiful-but-lethal, synthetic human ever known to Science Fiction. And yeah, that includes Cameron from The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Big thanks to Roberta for commenting and sharing!