An all persons fictitious disclaimer is a disclaimer in which a work of media states that all persons portrayed in it are fictitious. This is done to reduce the possibility of legal action for libel from any person who believes that he or she has been libeled via their portrayal in the work (whether portrayed under their real name or a different name) or believe that the work is real.
The wording of this disclaimer differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and from country to country, as does its legal effectiveness.
The disclaimer came as a result of the 1932 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Rasputin and the Empress, which insinuated that the character Princess Natasha had been raped by Rasputin. Princess Natasha's character was supposedly intended to represent Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, and the real Princess Irina sued MGM for libel. After seeing the film twice, the jury agreed that the princess had been defamed. Princess Irina and her husband Felix Yusupov were reportedly awarded $127,373 in damages by the English Court of Appeal in 1934 and $1 million in an out-of-court settlement with MGM. As a preventive measure against further lawsuits, the film was taken out of distribution for decades. Prompted by the outcome of this case, many studios began to incorporate an "all persons fictitious" disclaimer in their films in order to try to protect themselves from similar court action.
Contemporary industry usage
From about 2000 on, the traditional legal disclaimer for American studio films and TV series has been expanded to include greater threats on copyright infringement, as well as distancing the production from promoting the use of tobacco products, and also to assure audiences that no animals were harmed. Modern-day boiler plates are along the following lines:
This motion picture is protected under the copyright laws of the United States and other countries throughout the world. Country of first publication: United States of America. Any unauthorized exhibition, distribution, or copying of this film or any part thereof (including soundtrack) may result in civil liability and criminal prosecution. The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.
No person or entity associated with this film received payment or anything of value, or entered into any agreement, in connection with the depiction of tobacco products.
No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture. (This can only be used with proper permission from the American Humane Association, though many films illegally use this.)yearproduction company
Because the disclaimer is intended for serious purposes, it is often the subject of comedic satire. The Three Stooges' parody of Nazi Germany, You Nazty Spy, stated that "Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle." The sequel, I'll Never Heil Again, features a disclaimer that states that "The characters in this picture are fictitious. Anyone resembling them is better off dead". In the 1968 film Thunderbirds Are Go, a disclaimer states that all the persons in the feature are fictitious "as they do not exist yet" (the film is set in the year 2068). In the film An American Werewolf in London, and in Michael Jackson's Thriller, the disclaimer refers to "persons living, dead or undead". The film Return of the Living Dead features a disclaimer that reads "The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations." An episode of the TV series Red Dwarf included a news report saying that an ancient scroll had been found containing such a disclaimer for the Bible. The novel Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut features a truncated version of the disclaimer: "All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental, and should not be construed", referring to the novel's existentialist themes.
David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel Infinite Jest carries the disclaimer, "The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any apparent similarity to real persons is not intended by the author and is either a coincidence or the product of your own troubled imagination."
Because of the autobiographical nature of Dave Eggers' memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the book features the following play on the usual disclaimer:
Any resemblance to persons living or dead should be plainly apparent to them and those who know them, especially if the author has been kind enough to have provided their real names and, in some cases, their phone numbers. All events described herein actually happened, though on occasion the author has taken certain, very small, liberties with chronology, because that is his right as an American.
Richard Linklater's 1990 feature film Slacker ends with "This story was based on fact. Any similarity with fictitious events or characters was purely coincidental." All episodes of South Park open with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer that begins by stating, "All characters and events in this show – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated – poorly." The opening caption of Futurama episode "The Route of All Evil" shows the disclaimer "Any Resemblance To Actual Robots Would Be Really Cool". In the beginning of the 2009 American comedy-drama film 500 Days of Summer (which is about a failed romantic relationship), a disclaimer is given: "Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental ... Especially you, Jenny Beckman ... Bitch."
Disclaimers can occasionally be used to make political or similar points. One such disclaimer is shown at the end of the industrial/political thriller The Constant Gardener, signed by the author of the original book, John le Carré:
Nobody in this story, and no outfit or corporation, thank God, is based upon an actual person or outfit in the real world. But I can tell you this; as my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realize that, by comparison with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard.
The 1969 film Z, which is based on the military dictatorship ruling Greece at that time, has this notice: "Any resemblance to actual events, to persons living or dead, is not the result of chance. It is DELIBERATE." German nobel laureate Heinrich Böll's novel The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum was originally preceded by the following disclaimer: "The characters and action in this story are purely fictitious. If the depiction of certain journalistic practices should have resulted in similarities with the practices of the Bild newspaper, these similarities are neither intended nor coincidental but inevitable." For legal reasons, this disclaimer was later removed in the English edition. The 2015 Bollywood film Shamitabh opens with a disclaimer stating, "all characters and technology you see in the film are purely fictional."