Criminal or Civil Liability for False Autobiography

Let’s say I write a harrowing autobiography about my years in a Cambodian prison. It sells a million copies, Oprah has me on her show, and I’m the toast of the literary world.

Except I never set foot in Cambodia, and every word of my book is false.

Am I exposed to civil or criminal action?

STANDARD DISCLAIMERS APPLY: You are not my lawyer, I am not your client, blah blah blah. I have no intention of writing a fictitious autobiography. Etc. etc.

This NY Times article discusses a few cases which fit your hypothetical pretty much exactly, and briefly googling the authors indicates that the books were recalled, and that’s it. So I’d guess they didn’t get paid, but weren’t liable for damages or anything like that. There’s another guy named James Frey who had his “memoir”, A Million Little Pieces, featured by Oprah’s Book Club, until he turned out he made up half of it. The book was simply recalled and rereleased as fiction, and he had to go on Oprah’s show and get a lecture.

The publisher would generally have some liability (toward purchasers of the book) though.

Back in '78, the book In His Image: The Cloning of a Man was published in which the author, David Rorvik, claimed to have been involved in a successful human cloning experiment. However, he cribbed data from scientist for his book and the scientist sued, leading to a court case which declared the book a hoax.

Rorvik had to pay an award for the defamation suit but didn’t suffer anything for the basic premise of the book. The publisher was, of course, embarassed but simply released a statement saying that the book should be catagorized as fiction. I didn’t see it for sale as “New” from Amazon any longer but apparently Rorvik co-wrote a book on chosing the gender of your unborn child.

John Kerry (MA-D), claimed he spend Christmas eve in Cambodia, ans a Navy swift boat commander. (He was nowhere near Cambodia).
As far as I know, this bit of mendacity hasn’t hurt him.

Kerry claimed to have been in Cambodia in a speech on the Senate floor, not in a commercial work; and the Swift Boaters For Truth campaign helped cost him the Presidency, which certainly “hurt” him.

Was there a point to your post other than taking a political shot?


Let’s keep political potshots out of GQ.

General Questions Moderator