A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Professor Richard Chused

(Brain) Dead Intellectual Property Rights

Midnight in Paris

By Jonathan Eggers

Strong box office.  A critical darling. Nominated in 2012 for the Academy Awards for Best Picture; winner of the Best Original Screenplay. By any measure, Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris would be considered a cinematic success.

That is, until the film found itself in the center of some legal sound and fury.

The movie transports its hero, a struggling author played with panache by Owen Wilson, to the artistic mecca that was Paris in the early 20th century.

Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway all have memorable moments in the film. And in one scene, Mr. Wilson’s character says, in true Woody Allen-neurotic style: “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.”

The literati in the audience surely recognized the quote, and laughed. It’s a riff on a line from William. Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun”: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Other people who recognized the quote? Mr. Faulkner’s estate.

Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC (Faulkner LLC) has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal district court against production studio Sony Pictures Classics.

Does the law protect use of quotes only ten words long? Or does it dismiss these types of actions as frivolous and use of such material as protected by fair use? Does it matter that the movie clearly attributes the quote to the original author? Or was it more damaging to have associated Faulkner with the film than not? The media didn’t say. LASIS investigates.

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