Tv & Movies

The Crown Controversy – What Are the Laws on Making Real-Life Inspired TV Dramas?

On Friday, the highly anticipated fifth season of The Crown dropped on Netflix, much to the delight of fans. 


However, since its release, the streaming giant has been under pressure to add a disclaimer to the show, stating that it is a ‘fictional dramatization’ of events surrounding the Royal Family amid anger over fake storylines. 

The new series of The Crown is the latest addition to a new wave of shows created by Netflix that are inspired by real-life events, from The Watcher to Monster: A Jeffrey Dahmer Story, both of which have been renewed for second seasons.

With this in mind, the team at BPP University Law School have broken down which rules TV directors could be breaking when making content-based, on or inspired by real-life events.

You Can Legally Make Shows That Are in Public Records – But it’s Easier When They Have Life Rights 

When it comes to making TV shows or films based on real-life events, the general rule for writers and producers is that they are free and legally allowed to use any information that is publicly known. 


However, it is often in the best interest of producers to obtain permission or ‘life rights’ from the person that the production is about. This is because it gives them a major advantage in what they can include (e.g. more intimate details) because the person is being cooperative. As well as this, it offers a level of legal protection for producers to prevent a legal battle later down the line. 

Facts Need to Be Checked and People Need to Be Accurately Portrayed 

If producers are making a series in which an actor is playing the role of a real person, legally, they have the obligation to make sure that the people involved are being accurately portrayed and the story is factual.

It could be the difference between the production or show being sued for defamation or not if those involved in the story are wrongfully represented.  

Therefore, it is important for tv directors to make sure that any information given about a real-life person in the show is true and has reliable information or evidence to back it up. 

Alternatively, if they cannot obtain evidence for a statement that the show is making about an individual, adding a disclaimer such as ‘fictional dramatization’ will usually help to avoid any legal problems. 


Confidentiality Must Be Obtained

Another law that filmmakers need to abide by is maintaining confidentiality. Even if they have obtained permission from the person to tell their story, it doesn’t mean they have free rein to reveal personal or private information told to them in confidence. 

For example, during the making of the show, a family member, patient or friend may confide in the producers, telling them private facts that they do not want to be shared. If these facts are then used as part of the story and revealed to the public when the filmmaker was told or believed it to be confidential, it counts as a breach and could cause legal issues. 


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