Friday, November 2, 2012

Intelligensia Litigation Smackdown: William Faulkner v. Woody Allen

English: William Faulkner's signature
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi is the setting for Faulkner Literary Rights LLC v. Sony Pictures Classics Inc. (Case No. 3:2012-cv-00100), a copyright infringement suit [17 U.S.C. sec. 501] brought by the estate of American novelist William Faulkner against the film studio behind Woody Allen's  Oscar-nominated blockbuster, Midnight in Paris.

The case centers around the following passage from Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."  In the Allen film, the protagonist played by Owen Wilson paraphrases the quote in the following dialogue: "The past is not dead. Actually, it's not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him too. I ran into him as a dinner party."

To the plaintiff, the paraphrase of the quote without the defendant first obtaining a license from Faulkner's estate, is copyright infringement. To the defendant, the attributed 10-word passage satisfies the fair use exception to copyright law. To "TUOL," it's evidence that Midnight in Paris was overrated and not the least bit funny.

But Faulkner's heirs are in a litigious mood, as the Associated Press and the THR, Esq. Web site report that a second copyright infringement suit has been filed against a defense contractor and the Washington Post Co. involving an ad that uses a paragraph from a Faulkner essay that appeared in Harper's Magazine.

"TUOL" doesn't like to get involved, but note to the on-the-warpath Faulkner Estate: Macbeth's existential "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow..." soliloquy includes the line: "sound and fury...", so Shakespeare had it first. Just sayin'.
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  1. A delicious blend of literature and law ... thanks for the treat.

  2. Hi. How can I find this case ( Case No. 3:2012-cv-00100)? I want to read the plaint. Thank you!

    1. & Pacer system charge for reprint: here's a link: