Monday, April 19, 2010

Novel Setting Results in Lawsuit

“Avoid lawsuits beyond all things; they pervert your conscience, impair your health, and dissipate your property.”- Jean de la Bruyere

I like reading books that use authentic locations. I think they add a little zest to fiction. Familiar places can make a particular scene easy visualize and they add a touch of reality to fabricated stories.

I also like using actual locations in my own manuscripts. For instance, in The Ride when I needed a noisy backdrop, I had my characters meet at a popular restaurant. If the book wasn’t already published, I’d think about using a fictional eatery instead.

The article, “Crime novelist sued for setting plot around Paris landmark,” in the, has convinced me to resist this sort of temptation in the future and stick to totally fictional everything.

The article states:

When Lalie Walker set about using the Marché Saint Pierre as the setting for her latest crime thriller, she thought she was paying a nostalgic tribute to a much-loved Parisian landmark.

But, after reading her tale of a crazed killer who sews fear and loathing among the rolls of taffeta, the owners of the much-loved Montmartre fabric store have signalled that they do not appreciate her gesture.

Arguing that certain passages in her fictional depiction of a business rocked by threats, voodoo and staff abductions are defamatory, they are taking her to court and demanding €2m (£1.8m) in damages.

The author said she wrote the novel, Aux Malheurs des Dames, from an affectionate point of view, but the store’s director called it defamation, so the case is headed to the courtroom.

The head of the Parigramme publishing house stated that the book is clearly presented as fiction.

"At no moment does the novel imply that in everyday real life you are risking your life when buying a length of fabric," he said.

The lawyer for the same publishing house pointed out the Louvre didn’t attempt to sue Dan Brown for writing about murders taking place in the museum. I wonder if I should I add a “yet” here?

For Walker, the court case has come as a shock. "I think this is serious. It means that every time you want to write a fiction you have to ask the permission of the owners or the place," she said. "Potentially it represents a big threat to our liberty." She added, gloomily: "We will all have to end up writing science fiction instead."

Tess Gerritsen once wrote a blog about being threatened with a suit for using the actual name of an organ donantion bank in her book, Harvest. She said:

“I wrote back that the book is clearly labeled a novel, and that novels by definition were fiction. I also consulted with my publisher’s legal office, which told me to relax, that they get these sorts of letters all the time, and that since I had not said anything bad about NEOB, there really was no reason they could win a lawsuit. (But they admitted that NEOB could still choose to sue me.)”

I'm sure there are many more examples of this type of lawsuit. Have you heard of others? How do you feel about the use of real locations in fiction? Is using an actual site to tell a story worth the risk of being sued?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Jean de la Bruyere , Lalie Walker, Marché Saint Pierre , Tess Garritsen,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This worries me~! I write the Memphis series, but I work hard to keep it all accurate. Ack!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Daisy Hickman said...

Let's see, what would Eckhart Tolle say? Maybe something like conflict is a senseless function of the ego. Yet, being a novelist can bare the soul, perhaps, making writers vulnerable to attack on many levels. Don't have the answers, Jane, but thanks for bringing this matter to our attention.

Chester Campbell said...

My third Greg McKenzie mystery featured the assassination of the Federal Reserve chairman at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. The publisher had me change it to the Opryworld Hotel. From the description, anybody who has been there will recognize the place. After an interview with me appeared on Channel 4, the news anchors joked about the Opryword reference. I never heard anything from Opryland.

Hart Johnson said...

This IS worrying. My first book was entirely a fictional setting, but the later ones have used real life and the REAL stuff is SO MUCH EASIER!

I saw a discussion at one point that said the distinction should be 'real is okay for background, but use someplace fictional for anything BAD that happens' or something to that effect. I've been trying to stick with that--at least where proprietary establishments are concerned.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Let's hope nothing comes of this. What a sorry thing.

Laura S. said...

Will people stop at nothing to make a little money? Gosh, people sue for everything these days.

At least fiction writers have the option of making everything up and avoiding this kind of mess. I'm more worried for nonfiction and memoir writers.

Elspeth Futcher said...

This is disconcerting, to say the least. Doesn't that blurb at the beginning of every novel cover liability here?

Arlee Bird said...

I don't like the potential trend here.
I know this topic has come up on some other blogs, but your take has gotten a little more intense with some actual instances. It will certainly make me think in the future. Does this mean we'll have to start making up cities, states, and countries? Fiction will really start becoming too fictional.

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Helen Ginger said...

I love books set in real towns which use real locations. It gives them a more authentic feel. I guess a store owner might not like it if the author make the place sound bad, but otherwise I think it's a good idea. I hope this author wins the case.

Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

I use real and fictional locations. Usually if anything happens that could even remotely be construed as having a negative impact, I will either use a fictional location or I will describe the real place and either not name it or give it a fictional name.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Elizabeth – it worries me, too.

Daisy – I agree writers are vulnerable on many levels – too bad being sued is one of them.

Chester – sounds like Opryland managers know the definition of fiction.

Watery Tart – that sounds like a good rule-of-thumb to keep in mind.

I agree, Karen W, it is scary.

KarenG – I hope the author wins. As far as I know, NEOB didn’t pursue their suit with Gerritsen.

Laura – I agree there’s too many frivolous lawsuits – and it’s not just in America. I don’t know that this applies to nonfiction and memoir as those manuscripts are based on facts of actual events.

Good question Elspeth. The blurb does explain that the book is fiction, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for some businesses.

Arlee - I haven’t seen heard of a city, state or country sue, but it’s probably a possibility. Fiction becoming too fictional – I like that:)

Helen – I’m hoping the author wins this one, too.

Your method sounds like a good one, Carol.

The Old Silly said...

Makes you think twice, for sure. My new novel I'm writing takes place mostly in Detroit, also some in London, and my characters go to real restaurants, hotels, convention centers, etc. I'm doing lots of research to portray accuracy, though - hopefully I'm safe?

Patricia Stoltey said...

My own publisher now makes us get permission for almost every real place or product or organization we mention in our books. I don't think it's worth the trouble and would prefer to use all fictional everything from now on.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's unsettling! I use some real places, usually ever so briefly in my books and not in a bad light. Still, I can think of a couple crazy ways someone might take something wrong and sue. Sad!

Grammy said...

I guess the idea would be to make the location a purely fictional one, and make it seem real. Hmmm. Never having written a book, I wouldn't really know, but it is thrilling to read a book based in a place you know and can identify with some of the places.

Anonymous said...

I use real locations. As long as you don't slander the locations or misreprent them I think you're okay. If anything, people from my neck of the woods appreciate the expsoure I give them.

Stephen Tremp

Christina Rodriguez said...

I don't think much will become of this suit. Anyone remember "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" about a REAL murder in Savannah, GA? Did wonders for the tourism there.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's getting pretty scary to use real places in books -- I now use real cities as landmarks, but make the restaurants, hotels, or other locations fictitious if something bad happens there.

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