But when someone can convincingly claim that she or he was harmed by what screenwriters made up, that’s grounds for a powerful defamation suit, said Jean-Paul Jassy, a lawyer who works on media and First Amendment cases in Los Angeles.
“A disclaimer is just not a silver bullet,” he said.
“And that is where it gets very tricky with docudramas,” Mr. Jassy added. “A court could say: ‘I understand there are fictionalized elements of your show. But you used an actual person’s name, and also you presented as fact something that’s false that hurt their fame.’”
Lawsuits fail as a rule because only a few fans of those shows probably imagine they’re watching history because it literally unfolded. Hollywood has, in fact, all the time amped up the drama when telling — and selling — true stories.
But when shows like “The Crown” change into so popular because — at the least to a point — viewers imagine they’re getting an education, the liberties taken by writers transcend dramatic license, say those that have a stake in getting the facts straight.
Hugo Vickers, a British journalist who has been fact-checking episodes of “The Crown” for The Sunday Times and is the creator of several books concerning the monarchy, called a few of what has transpired over the show’s five seasons “an entire perversion of history.”
“They do it on a regular basis,” Mr. Vickers said. “They usually couldn’t care less.”
Netflix added a disclaimer after criticism from high places concerning the inaccuracies in “The Crown,” including from the famed British actress Judi Dench and former Prime Minister John Major over a scene that depicted an imagined conversation between Mr. Major and Prince Charles concerning the queen’s possible abdication. However the disclaimer, saying the series is “inspired by real events,” appeared not on the show itself but reasonably on its press materials and within the trailer, which aired on YouTube.
A disclaimer also appears in HBO’s show on the Lakers, saying partially, “This series is a dramatization of certain facts and events.” But Mr. West, the previous coach, and a few of his players found that wholly insufficient. Through his lawyer, Mr. West demanded an apology from HBO, saying the show “falsely and cruelly” maligned him as an “an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic.”