Faulkner's Estate Sues Sony Over Paraphrased Quote In Woody Allen Film

Faulkner's Estate Sues Over Quote In Woody Allen Film

In Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson's character has the following bit of 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 at a dinner party."

It paraphrases one of William Faulkner more famous quotes, from 1951's Requiem for a Nun: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

To Faulkner's estate, that's enough to sue Sony for copyright infringement. Here's what the lawsuit says, courtesy of I Watch Stuff

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.

I'm totally in favor of artists and estates defending an intellectual property, but this is a bit of a stretch. What do you think? Is Faulkner's estate overstepping its bounds, or is this necessary to defend Faulkner's work? 

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Danny grant's picture
Danny grant October 29, 2012 - 7:06am

I agree that it is a stretch for the estate to sue. I loved this film, and one thing it did was sparked my interest in exploring the works of all the authors in the film, including Faulkner and especially Hemingway.
Good article Rob. 

Pearl Griffin_2's picture
Pearl Griffin_2 from Portland, Oregon is reading Les Miserables October 29, 2012 - 8:33am

This is ridiculous. It's an allusion, which, last I checked, are used in some form in most great books. Why should movies be any different? If I quote Faulkner in a book, is his estate going to sue me too?

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago October 29, 2012 - 8:40am

Just what the Courts need, another ridiculous case.  I agree with Pearl, its an allusion.  Certainly the people handling William Faulkner's estate know what an allusion is.  I hope.

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies October 29, 2012 - 8:52am

So we're not even allowed in passing to mention another writer's work anymore? Is that it?

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On October 29, 2012 - 8:54am

As Dan has already stated, if nothing else, it helps spark interest (especially in younger generations) to attempt authors like Faulkner. But it's also ridiculous because it's all speculation of dead creative people. First of all, Wilson's character wasn't quoting a book; it's what he heard the man say at a fictional, off-screen party. In addition, who's to say this isn't how the quote was first borne from the brain of Faulkner to begin with, only to be later refined in its final text form? I don't see anything infringing about it; in fact, I'd say bravo to Allen for implying that Faulkner was intelligent and astute enough to be able to rattle off profundities off-the-cuff like that. It's meant as homage and compliment.


jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 29, 2012 - 9:03am

If their whole complaint is that it's going to suggest or imply a connection between Faulkner and Sony, then this lawsuit will demonstrate that there is no such connection (or that they deny it,) regardless of how fervently they seek real punitive action against the film and/or those involved.

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 29, 2012 - 10:44am

I would have never heard that dialogue and thought "Oh the Faulkner estate must be involved in this movie!" Famous dead people and the things they've written/said are referenced in films all the time. I don't think there is any precedence for what the estate is claiming, nor do I think it's a particularly well thought out claim.

Frank Chapel's picture
Frank Chapel from California is reading Thomas Ligotti's works October 29, 2012 - 2:26pm

They are within their rights. It is infringement. Putting "actually" in between a direct quote doesnt make it a paraphrase or allusion. None of the above stated reasons justify use of the line without consent of the estate. Its like using a part of another film in yours, altering it a bit and believing there's no infingement.

Use of the line might have been ok if the idea was being criticized or was satirical, however neither applies here.
The fact that the encounter is fictional also does not help, in fact it'd be more helpful if the encounter was fact, as facts cannot be copyrighted.

EDIT: "The Past Is Not Dead. In Fact, It’s Suing.
By Aisha Harris"

Above is a blog/article (cant make link work) that has a better case for the lines fair use. It seems I'm wrong about this not being a paraphrase or allusion, it is. It's also not enough material to constitute infringement. The blog quotes a copyright lawyer Lloyd Jassin as saying that under fair use one can "borrow or use small portions of in-copyright works for socially productive purposes without seeking permission.” This only applies to non-commercial, non-profit, academic papers, and news articles. They'd be better off saying the line is too small a portion of the work to constitute infringement.

The blog goes on to say the use of the line is important to the theme of the movie, the specifics about the point arent mentioned but if youve watched the film you can figure it out.

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from living outside of Albuquerque/in Minneapolis is reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks October 29, 2012 - 2:47pm

This is ridiculous, an example of a completely frivolous lawsuit. The line is an allusion. I don't know what these people could be thinking, unless it's "Sony has deep pockets and I want a payoff." I don't even like Sony, and I can see that.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 29, 2012 - 3:10pm

Everyone who thinks the line-lifting is acceptable believes it is so because Faulkner is/was already famous, successful, acclaimed, etc, right? "Allusions" don't work unless the work to which you allude is already known.

Leggygal's picture
Leggygal from Australia is reading Our Mutual Friend October 29, 2012 - 4:22pm

Crazy, I think the use of the quote was more likely to expose a whole new audience to the work of Faulkner, thereby increasing the benefit to the estate. Free advertising in  a way. The fact that the quote was not verbatim is in line with the way real people allude to famous works. 

nationwideproperties's picture
nationwideproperties April 27, 2014 - 6:06am

that is i suppose very dramatic approach towards the qoute, seems more like a publicity stunt to get more approaches. Well, its not a big deal to take a few words out of dialoge and create a hype on it, i wish best of luck to Faulkner's estate to get the best piece of meat he deserves. al reef apartments for sale