Don't Quote Me on That

Submitted by patentadmin on Tue, 11/06/2012 - 11:54

We're all for copyright owners' rights, but this one might be stretching a bit: The owners of the copyrights to the late William Faulkner's literary works sued Sony Pictures Classics and a group of movie exhibitors because of two sentences uttered by actor Owen Wilson in Woody Allen's 2011 movie Midnight in Paris.

Faulkner Literary Rights LLC filed the suit in a U.S. District Court in Mississippi, claiming that Sony and the other defendants didn't request permission to use the quote.

Here's what Wilson's character said: "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 at a dinner party."

And here's the quote, from a passage in Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The use of that quote looks a lot like fair use, especially given the fact that it was attributed to Faulkner. But the Faulkner folks disagree, arguing in the Complaint that the "use of the Infringing Quote and of William Faulkner's name in the Infringing Film is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, and/or to deceive the Infringing Film's viewers as to a perceived affiliation, connection or association between William Faulkner and his works, on the one hand, and Sony, on the other hand."

Really? You don't just think the movie's scriptwriters were simply quoting a work they enjoyed and properly attributing it to the author in the process?

We suppose the Faulkner copyright owners are worried that viewers will think that the author, who has been dead for 50 years, somehow approved of this motion picture and had some involvement in it. Or maybe sales of Faulkner's books are down and the copyright owners just need to raise some cash. (Perhaps too many schoolkids are looking up the Wikipedia synopsis of As I Lay Dying instead of reading the book?)

The Faulkner folks are seeking compensatory damages, costs and attorney fees, and/or injunctive relief over the two-sentence quote used in the "Infringing Film" (to use the plaintiff's term).

We'll be watching this rather interesting lawsuit as it develops, but in the meantime, we suddenly feel like taking in a Woody Allen movie.

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