Woody Allen Won Out Over William Faulkner in Court

The Atlantic
Woody Allen Won Out Over William Faulkner in Court
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Woody Allen Won Out Over William Faulkner in Court

Sony Pictures had the lawsuit against Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris filed by William Faulkner's estate dismissed by a federal Mississippi court judge on Friday because, well, a poorly used nine word quote is not grounds for a fair use lawsuit. 

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At one point in Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson's struggling novelist protagonist says: "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 line Wilson quotes is from Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun, and his estate wasn't happy with being included in the movie without getting some compensation. So Faulkner Literary Rights LLC filed suit against Allen and Sony Pictures for damages and some of the movies profits. But the funny thing is, Wilson's character didn't even get the line right. The actual text reads: "The past is never dead. It’s not even past."

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So the whole lawsuit was over a nine-word line that wasn't even quoted right. 

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Unsurprisingly, Missouri judge Michael P. Mills dismissed it in a 17 page ruling delivered on Friday. "At issue in this case is whether a single line from a full-length novel singly paraphrased and attributed to the original author in a full-length Hollywood film can be considered a copyright infringement," Mills wrote. "In this case, it cannot."

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Faulkner's estate tried to argue the line "describes the essence of Requiem," and therefore qualified for qualitative importance. Mills didn't see it that way, and his response is kind of hilarious. "Qualitative importance to society of a nine-word quote is not the same as qualitative importance to the originating work as a whole," he wrote. "Moreover, it should go without saying that the quote at issue is of miniscule quantitative importance to the work as a whole. Thus, the court considers both the qualitative and quantitative analyses to tip in favor of fair use." The judge also implied the Faulkner estate probably profited from being mentioned in the movie. 

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Unlike the past, this lawsuit is dead.

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