The lawsuits based on the alleged violation of copyright laws grow ever more common with every passing year and rarely make it to breaking news segments of newspapers and TV shows. The lawsuit of Faulkner Literary Rights LLC against Sony Pictures, however, was weird even by the modern standards.
It concerned the nine-word phrase said by actor Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris, which sounds as follows: “The past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner”. According to the representatives of Faulkner estate, this phrase infringes their rights because the screenplay uses the fragment from the novel Requiem for a Nun without compensation or permission. The original phrase read as “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past” – that it, the sentence said in the film wasn’t even a word for word quotation. Nevertheless, the copyright protectors considered their lawsuit to be completely justified, because the phrase contained the “essence” of the original phrase and the novel in general and therefore belongs to them.
However, as can be seen from this piece of news, common sense sometimes prevails even in our times. Federal Mississippi judge Michael Mills did not find the estate’s point of view to be legally correct – according to him, both qualitative and quantitative analyses suggest that the nine-word phrase in question is of minute importance to society (differently from the original work) and to the work of art as a whole. It was clearly seen that even the judge was annoyed at the behavior of Faulkner’s estate: he ended his argumentation by saying that the court has got acquainted both with the book and the film in question and is extremely thankful that the parties didn’t ask him to compare The Sound and the Fury (another Faulkner’s novel, well-known to be quite hard to comprehend) with Sharknado (a recent B-movie about sharks falling out of the sky), obviously pointing out the absurdity of the initial request.
It is unknown whether Faulkner Literary Rights LLC is going to appeal against this verdict, but the possibility of another court making another decision seems to be rather slim at the moment.
This lawsuit points out two things: firstly, that the copyright holders grow ever more aggressive and are ready to file the most absurd and ridiculous lawsuits. Secondly, that their opinion is becoming marginalized (albeit slowly) – even the representatives of judicial system sometimes show signs of being tired of their behavior. After all, what we see here is not protection of somebody’s rights (Faulkner died in 1962 and current copyright holders don’t have anything to do with his literary work), but arbitrary application of law in hope of getting some extra profit.