Copyright action arising from a moment's dialogue in Midnight in Paris shows how carefully directors must tread. By Guy Adams
The sound and the fury of William Faulkner's prose is nothing compared to the racket being made by attorneys who represent the late writer's estate. They are suing Woody Allen, The Washington Post, and several major corporations, for allegedly infringing his copyright.
A series of claims filed in Mississippi last week by Faulkner Literary Rights LLC seeks compensation and damages from roughly 100 people and companies who, it claims, have profited from the illegal misappropriation of the Nobel Prize-winning author's oeuvre.
Among the defendants is Allen, whose 2011 film, Midnight in Paris, is targeted owing to a line spoken by Gil Pender, the character played by Owen Wilson. "The past is not dead!" it reads. "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."
Faulkner's estate says Allen should have asked permission for the phrase to be used. It is further peeved that he misquotes the writer's original line, which can be found in the 1950 book, Requiem for a Nun, and reads: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
The lawsuit claims: "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."
It seeks "damages, disgorgement of profits, costs …