I’m thinking about developing a blog where the main character is fictional and has fictional relationships with well known celebrities and sports figures. Are there any legal ramifications for writing about celebs in this manner?
As long as it is clearly evident that the piece is fictional, my understanding is that you can basically employ celebrities however you like.
Major issues you generally want to avoid are:
But a fictional account (clearly presented as such, and not using copyrighted works or actual pictures of the celebrity) has none of these problems. See, for example, The Social Network, a dramatized account of the founding of Facebook, which played fast and loose with the facts and was produced without consent or cooperation from its subject, Mark Zuckerberg.
The major thing to watch out for, then, is looking as though your blog is nonfictional. In blog format that'll be a bit hard, because you probably don't want a disclaimer in every post. Make sure you can get something very clear into your design, maybe even a regular line in your RSS feed, to avoid anything approaching misleading appearances - because those could probably get you into trouble. But the act itself, publishing fiction involving real-life public figures - that should be perfectly OK.
I am also not a lawyer but have experience in this matter. You may generally use a character in a work of fiction as long as they are in the public limelight. A celebrity, political figure, and so on. It has been upheld in court that since the person is a public figure they are open game for a fictional work. And as previously stated you may not use a picture or graphic representation of the person.
Furthermore, if what you or someone on your blog writes or comments about, you may get into trouble. Your level of tolerance and what offends someone else may be two separate items altogether.
My advice is to only write about persons already dead. I know this is not what you want to do, but here in the United States it's a lot safer. You can legally write ANYTHING you want about a dead person. It can be a story set when the person was alive and you can tell a totally fictionalized account of an event - or use them as a character in a fabricated story.
The caveat here is that you MAY NOT write about a person who is still alive. So if the dead person's wife or children or friends are still alive you have to leave them out of the story. Or get permission from them.
Just some food for thought. :-)
One question that becomes very important is whether you are being positive or negative about the celebrities. If you are going to suggest that, for example, David Cameron had a gay affair with your lead character, then don't - you will get in trouble. If you are wanting to suggest that your lead character was at an official event that He spoke at, and talked to him about nothing significant, then you should be OK.
Picking up @VictorGs comment, you could use meaningless meetings with current people to provide reminiscences about past ( and dead ) characters that they have met, which can be more racy/ controversial.
I would suggest that there is a link on the blog that makes it clear that this is a fictional account - not necessarily prominent, but noticeable. Also, consider whether you would allow comments - probably not, unless it is critical to your project. YOu could get in trouble for comments that assume the blog is real, I think.