Famed Parisian Fabric Store Sues Author For Defamation After She Used The Store In A Novel

from the write-what-you-know dept

This is just getting silly. The famous saying in the writing business is "write what you know," but when "what you know" sues you for defamation, things get tricky. We've covered various stories of people suing (and sometimes winning) by claiming defamation in that a fictional character was "based on them." This makes very little sense, as most characters that novelists write are loosely based on people they know... and exaggerated or composited with others. That's how you create realistic believable fictional characters.

But what if you get beyond characters to actual locations?

Copycense points us to the news of a famous landmark Parisian fabric store that was used as a major set piece in a novel by Lalie Walker. Apparently, the store, the Marche Saint Pierre, was not at all pleased and has sued Walker for defamation, demanding €2 million in damages.

The author is "flabbergasted" and notes that she wrote the novel "from an affectionate point of view" in an attempt to pay tribute to the store.
But Village d'Orsel, the business which runs the Marche Saint Pierre, insists that the book -- Aux Malheurs des Dames, a play on an Emile Zola novel set in Paris's 19th-century department stores -- tarnishes its image. For more than 60 years the multi-storey shop has provided customers with a wealth of materials at low cost from its building at the foot of the Butte, or hill, of Montmartre.

By describing a mysterious -- and fictional -- malaise afflicting the self-declared "kingdom of fabric", it says the book gives a false impression of the Marche.
This is what we get in an "ownership society" where everyone thinks that they have full control over what others can say about them -- even in fictional stories.

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  • icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 7:57am

    I'm reminded about how Mattel didn't want their precious Barbie appearing in the first Toy Story movie. They learned their lesson and made sure the toy was featured in the sequel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:07am

    Sucks

    I'm wondering if she ever says Marche Saint Pierre sucks? Saying Marche Saint Pierre sucks would be a bad thing, right? If you said Marche Saint Pierre sucks it might end up all over the internet and that would be bad, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ima Fish (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:15am

      Re: Sucks

      I wonder if Marche Saint Pierre buys all of its products from sweat shops and slave labor camps?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Dark Helmet (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:22am

        Re: Re: Sucks

        "I wonder if Marche Saint Pierre buys all of its products from sweat shops and slave labor camps?"

        Huh, I actually heard that they don't make their prodcuts at all. I heard they are made by clubbing baby seals over the head, at which point the baby seal poops out the merchandise. There was something about eviscerating a pregnant golden retreiver too, but I can't remember the exact details....

        Okay, that last one even grossed ME out....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:26am

        Re: Re: Sucks

        "I wonder if Marche Saint Pierre buys all of its products from sweat shops and slave labor camps?"

        If Marche Saint Pierre used slave labor, there would likely be a lot of diseases there, right?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:10am

    It's a fine line nowadays...

    "The famous saying in the writing business is "write what you know," but when "what you know" sues you for defamation, things get tricky."

    INCREDIBLY tricky, actually. Between the book I've finished and the one I'm working on now, I find it nearly impossible to not include the city of Chicago and the surrounding areas as chief setting locations, strictly because my familiarity with the area means I can write more believable setting descriptions. When writing fiction about present day, as in my previous work, it's nearly impossible not to reference real world locations, so you have to figure out howto change just enough of the details to avoid this kind of stupidity.

    "most characters that novelists write are loosely based on people they know... and exaggerated or composited with others. That's how you create realistic believable fictional characters."

    Kudos. That's as succinct an explanation of how an author uses the people they know to write characters. There is usually two ways. First, they write about a known person's character traits, and then twist or exaggerate them and give them a fictional name. Secondly, if you have a character you're satisfied with, but can't come up with a fitting but realistic name, you slap the name of one of your friends/family on them. Either way, when these people read the work, they tend to get flustered and upset, as if you're directly describing them and/or criticizing them. Which, of course, is immensely stupid.

    "But what if you get beyond characters to actual locations?"

    Again, you remain vague enough or change just enough to keep from something that is actionable. That's how Mayor Daley became Mayor Donovan in my work. Or how Club Lucky, a ridiculously amazing Italian Restaurant in Wicker Park, became "The Golden Club".

    The fact that I have to do all this is immensely frustrating and creatively it is an obstruction....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      :Lobo Santo (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:13am

      Re: It's a fine line nowadays...

      Agreed. In fact, it's far easier to write about things one knows nothing about. (There's a proof about trolling in that sentence somewhere, come to think of it...)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Dark Helmet (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:19am

        Re: Re: It's a fine line nowadays...

        "it's far easier to write about things one knows nothing about"

        That's the point, it isn't. I've never been to New Mexico, for example, and I wanted to write two or three scenes that took place there (Roswell). It meant spending HOURS going through Google Maps (streetview was immensely helpful), satellite data, and several websites including the city's, all in order to even have half a SHOT at writing the scene. And even then I couldn't be as detailed as the scenes that took place in Chicago.

        But from a legal worrying standpoint, you're right, places you know nothing about are easier, and places you've completely constructed out of thin air (fantasy worlds, historical settings where limited info is available, etc.) are probably best....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          :Lobo Santo (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:28am

          Re: Re: Re: It's a fine line nowadays...

          Let me rephrase that: If you don't care about how accurate your "factual" information is, it's far easier to write about things you know nothing about.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Dark Helmet (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:32am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: It's a fine line nowadays...

            Hmm, to a degree I suppose. But I'm far less concerned about accuracy than I am about writing full fleshed out descriptive settings. Real world setting are ideal for this, because you can visit the location and describe it first, adding in your personal touches on top of the "real" setting.

            James Joyce did this wonderfully in "Portrait"....

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    LumpyDog (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:17am

    I wonder if this is less about "control" and more about making a blatant money grab.

    Either way, it's absurd.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ima Fish (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:24am

      Re:

      Actually it's about billable hours. Lawyers aren't paid to sit around and do nothing, so they create BS like this to give themselves something to do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PEBKAC, 24 Mar 2010 @ 8:27am

    "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental."

    Copied out of a paperback I've got at hand, similar or identical to another paperback also at hand. Much like the statements at the end of movie credits.

    Presuming the book in the article has something like it on the first page or so, isn't this enough to preclude or throw out such lawsuits?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 10:16am

      Re: Disclaimers

      > "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
      > places, and incidents are either the product
      > of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
      > Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
      > events, or locales is entirely coincidental."

      What's funny is that you see this same disclaimer in movies and books that *are* about real people and events. For example, that movie "Pearl Harbor" with Ben Affleck had that disclaimer in the end credits. Sure some of the characters were fictional, but many weren't (Admiral Kimmel, LTC Doolittle, etc). And of course the places and events were all real.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sean T Henry (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 9:11am

    To deal with wanting to use real life settings you send a letter to the store stating that you want there permission to use the location in a book. In the letter you state that in the back after the end you will have a short page about the store and the address or website if they want, also state that in the event permission is not granted competitor X will be receiving the same offer of free advertising in the book.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2010 @ 9:33am

    The amazing thing is that anyone has survived the gypsy curse long enough for a clinical study of the disease progression.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2010 @ 10:15am

    using a specific privately owned location without first getting approval is just a stupid move. all of this could have been avoided by communication up front. the author made a very big mistake, and the lawsuit is both valid and likely to be won.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 24 Mar 2010 @ 10:18am

      Re: Success

      > the lawsuit is both valid and likely to be won

      Not really. The lawsuit is on very thin ice legally and unless they can prove their business was damaged by the book's description of it, they're not likely to win anything.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        The Mighty Buzzard, 24 Mar 2010 @ 11:15am

        Re: Re: Success

        True, unless they have many overpaid lawyers. Once that standard is met, all legal standards go out the window.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christina, 21 Oct 2010 @ 3:24pm

    Aux Malheurs des Dames

    What is the likelyhood of an edition in English?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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