French fabric store sues novelist

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LISA MULLINS: A French mystery writer is in legal trouble. Lalie Walker set her latest novel in a well-known fabric store in the part of Paris known as Montmartre. The store is a landmark for do-it-yourselfers. But it seems the owners don't buy the argument that any publicity is good publicity. They want the book banned. Genevieve Oger sent us this report from Paris.

GENEVIEVE OGER: Montmartre is a top tourist destination, but for people who live in Paris, it's also where you go to buy fabric. And the most famous place to buy it is probably Marche St. Pierre. It's known as the temple of fabric. For 60 years, it's where budding designers have rubbed elbows with sewing grandmas as they sift through one of the greatest fabric selections in the city. Sales people write up purchases on small slips of paper and cashiers ring them up on old style machines. Author Lalie Walker found the place so colorful, she set her latest mystery novel here.

LALIE WALKER: There are many different people of many different countries. You can see fabric. So many colors. Many things to touch. To take in the hand. A very animated district in Paris and a small district.

OGER: The novel involves disappearing employees, voodoo dolls and a persistent burnt smell in the store. Walker makes it clear in her book that her story is fictional. But that didn't stop Walker from finding herself at the Paris courthouse. The owners of Marche St. Pierre are suing her, and her publisher and two others for libel, insults and using a brand name without permission. They are asking for more than two million dollars in damages. And they want the book taken off the shelves. The store's lawyer argued in court last week that the story tarnishes the store's image. Walker's attorney Emmanuel Pierrat says that's nonsense.

EMMANUEL PIERRAT: Our case is about someone who is talking about the butte Montmartre, about the Sacre Coeur, very famous places in Paris, as a landscape to set a novel. We are not arguing against the director of one shop, the director of another one. The writer didn't know them.

OGER: Pierrat claims the case could set a dangerous precedent. For instance, it could mean that authors such as Dan Brown wouldn't be able to write about the Louvre Museum. The lawyer for Marche Saint Pierre has declined to comment on the case. Her clients made only one public comment about the case several months ago. They told a French news website that the Marche St. Pierre name is protected by copyright and that no one can mention it without their permission. Writers and publishers here are paying close attention. Author Anne Levanra says the owners of Marche Saint Pierre are looking at it in the wrong way.

ANNE LEVANRA: We have so many histories in the Louvre, with crimes and so on. It makes the legend.

OGER: Levanra says the book makes the fabric store even more of a landmark. The judge says he will issue his decision November 19th. For The World, this is Genevieve Oger in Paris.