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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
"Really? I thought water-walking, bisexual, bullet dodging vampires were a regular occurrence these days."
Some form of this disclaimer can be found at the front of nearly every novel out there as well as in the credits of most films and TV episodes. It's an attempt to stave off libel suits; it seems to have been originated as a response to a suit against the makers of the 1932 film Rasputin and the Empress by a Russian princess who believed one of the characters to have been modeled on her. Think of it as the more professional equivalent of I Do Not Own (though, as publishing companies and Hollywood studios, unlike fanfic authors, actually have lawyers working for them, it's more likely to carry some amount of legal force).
Sometimes this disclaimer is the only part of the movie that's fiction, especially when the real people in question lived long enough ago that they're not going to sue anybody. (And sometimes publishers make the mistake of putting it in books openly Based on a True Story; e.g., the first printing of the Touchstone paperback edition of Schindler's List.) Works Based on a True Story may use a modified disclaimer, acknowledging the historical basis for the work but stating that it doesn't necessarily conform 100% to history.
Although not a Dead Unicorn Trope, this can easily be mistaken for one by the unobservant. When played straight, the disclaimer is generally buried amid a bunch of similar legalese (at the end of the credits or on the copyright page of the book, for example) where it might be easily missed. More playful versions are generally given much more prominent placement, so everyone can recognize how clever the creators are being. These often include Suspiciously Specific Denials, just in case more generic denials are insufficient to the task.
If a work uses Write Who You Know, the issue will probably be avoided.
Contrast Dan Browned, where you have a work of fiction that the author tries to pass off as true or accurate.
- It's repurposed in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya; the SOS movie includes a version of it so that Haruhi won't make everything in the movie real.
- Occult Academy ends with this: (translated to English) This programme is a work of fiction. Departed Spirits, Psychic Abilities, Aliens, UMA's, etc., do not exist.
- Unless you believe in them...
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei has a different disclaimer at the end of each episode, always related to the plot of the episode and always a Suspiciously Specific Denial.
"This programme is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the real Plan to Turn Humanity Into Livestock, Ozeki or Che Guevara is purely coincidental."
- In the last episode they go so far as to claim that any similarity with their own show is purely coincidental.
- Senkou no Night Raid, which is set in China in 1931 and deals in a great part with the events leading up to the Second Sino-Japanese War, has this disclaimer at the end of every episode:
"This is a work of fiction. Although it is based on real historical events, the characters have been created for the sake of this story. We are not trying to present a new interpretation of the era and its events."
- This is pretty gutsy from a series that in fact goes against the popular (in Japan) interpretation by not ignoring Japan's role in what happened and presenting it as a bad thing.
- Samurai Champloo: "This work of fiction is not intended as an accurate historical portrayal... LIKE YOU GIVE A %#@&!"
- The Legend of Koizumi: "This is a work of fiction, but any similarity or likeness to actual persons is not a coincidence."
- In Transmetropolitan, Spider Jerusalem starts watching porn based around his persona, preceded by this disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction not intended to represent anyone living, dead or writing a weekly column for a newspaper."
- Books of Magic III has: "This is a work of fiction. All the characters in it, human and otherwise, are imaginary, excepting only certain of the fairy folk, whom it might be unwise to offend by casting doubts on their existence. Or lack thereof."
- Marvel UK's The Real Ghostbusters and Count Duckula comics disclaim any resemblance to persons "living, dead, or undead".
- As does Eric Powell's The Goon, published by Dark Horse.
Film — Live Action
- The 1969 film Z, which satirizes 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."
- The Three Stooges short "You Nazty Spy" claims that "Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle."
- The disclaimer in An American Werewolf in London notes the fictional status of all characters "living, dead, or undead".
- (500) Days of Summer begins with the standard disclaimer, and then appends, "Especially you, Jenny Beckman. Bitch."
- The Great Dictator begins with the notice: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
- Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie combines this with No Animals Were Harmed to get "The story, names, characters and incidents portrayed in this production are real. Some goats, pigs, and sheep were nuked during the original photography of some operations."
- Subverted in an epilogue to the 1931 Dracula. Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing in the film) speaks directly to the audience, giving them what sounds like a reassuring message about the fictitious nature of the preceding film... until he gets to the kicker: "There are such things as vampires!" Sadly, this epilogue was cut from the film's 1936 re-release (for fear of offending religious groups), and is now lost.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail has the regular "accidental and unintentional" message... but follows it up with "Signed Richard M Nixon".
- The infamous /b/ board on 4chan has one of these:
The stories and information posted here are artistic works of fiction and falsehood.
- Similarly, the German Krautchan includes a bilingual disclaimer after the site was featured in the news.
- American Gods has a long version of the disclaimer, including discussion of precisely how real certain locations discussed in the book are, and ending "Furthermore, it goes without saying that all the people, living, dead and otherwise in this story are fictional or used in a fictional context. Only the gods are real."
- Carl Hiassen has a tendency to start his books this way.
- Sick Puppy has:
This is a work of fiction. All names and characters are either invented or used fictitiously. To the best of the author's knowledge, there is no such licensed product as a Double-Jointed Vampire Barbie, nor is there a cinematic portrayal thereof.
- Similarly, the disclaimer in Hiaasen's Skinny Dip explains: "The events described are mostly imaginary, except for the destruction of the Florida Everglades and the $8 billion effort to save what remains."
- Kurt Vonnegut had a standard parody of this, as exemplified in Bagombo Snuff Box:
As in my other works of fiction: All persons living and dead are purely coincidental, and should not be construed. No names have been changed in order to protect the innocent. Angels protect the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers has the anti-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."
- Edgar Pangborn's post-apocalyptic novel Davy has a disclaimer by the author to the effect that:
The characters in this book are fictional in a limited sense, i.e. they haven't been born yet.
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency claims that it bears no resemblance to any people "...living, dead, or wandering the night in ghostly torment."
- Each book in the 87th Precinct series features the following disclaimer (which is partly a shout-out to Dragnet):
The city in these pages is imaginary. The people, the places are all fictitious. Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.
- Subverted in Michael Crichton's Next, an Author Tract about the dangers of genetic engineering loosely based on some real events.
"This novel is fiction, except for the parts that aren't."
- A novel involving, among other things, the author having the Virgin Mary as a house guest has — in small print, on the looseleaf — "this novel is a work of fiction". Except that Mary and the author explicitly discuss the fact that the author would never be able to publish it as truth.
Mary (paraphrasing): You could publish it as fact, of course. But where would that lead? ...they would dig up your tulip bulbs and sell water from your garden hose as holy. They would flock to your house and turn it into a shrine. The prayers would drive you mad.
- The late '80s teen novel A Royal Pain, about an American girl who discovers she's the Switched At Birth princess of a fictional foreign country, includes the standard disclaimer. Underneath is a second disclaimer by the main character urging the reader to ignore the first one, because "it really happened. I know. I was there."
- Go Mutants:
This book is a work of fiction. The public figures, historical events, and popular entertainments referred to in the text are from a different universe, one with no libel or copyright laws.
- The Star*Drive novels subtly parody this with the disclaimer "All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons or aliens, living or dead, is purely coincidental."
- In The Pale King, David Foster Wallace points out the paradox of the book being both a memoir and literary fiction in The Author's Foreword, first saying that everything in the book is true, and then pointing out that the sentence in which he says that is itself covered by the disclaimer at the beginning of the book.
- In You Have to Stop This, the final book of the Secret Series, the disclaimer reads "The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Of course, you know what they say about good intentions...."
Live Action TV
- Red Dwarf has an episode in which an ancient scroll containing this disclaimer for The Bible is unearthed.
- The video case for Blackadder's Christmas Carol states that all characters are fictional and any resemblence to any real person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Except the Awful Screeching Woman, who knows exactly who she is.
- Dragnet (both the radio and television show) and Adam-12 also did this with the revelation that the events were based on real cases since Jack Webb had relationship with the LAPD. It might have been the first, or one of the first, police procedurals to use Ripped from the Headlines stories.
- Square One TV: The opening spiel of Dragnet parody Mathnet:
The story you are about to see is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up, but the problems are real.
- Many episodes of shows from the Law & Order franchise begin with the caption "The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event." Some have a modified version: "Although inspired by true events, the following story is fictional." Experienced viewers know that either means "Okay, this story's been Ripped from the Headlines. Please don't sue us."
- The first-season L&O episode "Indifference" ended with a caption and voice-over pointing out the differences between its storyline and the real-life child-killing of Lisa Steinberg. This remains the only explicit disavowal of a real case in the franchise's history.
- The Good Wife had an interesting take on this where a film studio made a movie about a Mark Zuckerberg substitute internet billionaire and got sued for defamation. If they admit that they intentionally made the guy look bad they are guilty of defamation. If they publicly say that the movie was a work of fiction then the movie loses a lot of its appeal since they based their advertising and Product Placement on the fact that it is an accurate depiction of actual events.
- The "Spam" episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus begins with Fake-Out Opening credits for an epic adventure, mangling the disclaimer to "Any similarity between persons living or dead is coincidental."
- Every episode of Unsolved Mysteries started out with a warning in (first) an ominous male voice, and on the Lifetime broadcasts, an equally ominous female voice:
This program is about unsolved mysteries. Whenever possible, the actual family members and police officials have participated in recreating the events. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast.
- The phrase "...any persons living, dead or undead" is also used by the music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller (which, like An American Werewolf in London, was directed by John Landis).
- Knickerbocker Holiday, Epilogue for Stuyvesant:
What more remains is but to say
- Some would argue that The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples applies here with these lines from A Midsummer Night's Dream:
If we shadows have offended,
- Used at the beginning of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (and that game alone), because it was written in 1999, depicted terrorist attacks in New York and was completed in September 2001.
- Can be seen at the beginning of both the English and Japanese versions of the Raidou Kuzunoha games, perhaps due to the historical(ish) setting and the use of a few Historical Domain Characters.
- Because of the historical and religious implications of the plot of the Assassin's Creed series, every game takes care to point out that it "was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs".
- Due to the crazy and unfair court system used in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, the Western version of the game manual features quiet promplty a message saying:"The courts, law and legal activities in this game were made speciicly for entertaiment purposes and in no way represent real courts of any kind shape of form". This is obviously so that the Justic System of America don't get pee'd of at how they represent their courts in the game. In the orginal Japanese version however (which is what the courts in the games ARE based on) they say that "the courts, laws and way of trials in this game are based on the court system however do not represent it with 100% acurrecy. Many aspects are exsaggerated for entertainment purposes and therefore should not be taken as an accurate representaion.". Of course the trials in the games are huge take thats at the Japan Legal System, a system which untill the revamp in 2009, was considered very unfair, harash and too hard on suspects; a fact that was confirmed by Word of God
- Played with in Touhou: Ten Desires — "This game is a work of fiction. All characters and organizations that appear have entered Gensokyo."
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Tom Siddell says this, almost word for word, in the annotation for this page and the one following. However, the the message here is not "Although this looks like it could have really happened, it didn't.", but rather "I KNOW this is impossible! It's a fantasy story, OK?"
- South Park displays this at the beginning of each episode:
"All characters and events in this show—even those based on real people—are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated ... poorly. The following program contains coarse language and due to its content it should not be viewed by anyone."
- The opening caption in the Futurama episode "The Route of All Evil" is "DISCLAIMER: Any resemblance to actual robots would be really cool."
- Beavis and Butt-Head had two notable disclaimers at different periods of its series run, the latter essentially a slightly slimmed down version of the former, accompanied by jaunty banjo music:
"Beavis and Butt-Head are not real. They are stupid cartoon people completely made up by this Texas guy whom we hardly even know. Beavis and Butt-Head are dumb, crude, thoughtless, ugly, sexist, self-destructive fools. But for some reason, the little weinerheads make us laugh."
"Beavis and Butt-Head are not role models. They're not even human, they're cartoons. Some of the things they do would cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested, and possibly deported. To put it another way, Don't Try This At Home."