Monday, December 31, 2012

Don't be quotin' no Faulkner

The offending ad
At least if you want to avoid a lawsuit. Faulkner Literary Estate, LLC has been very busy this year as the Virginia-based company sued The Washington ****, Northrop Grumman, and Sony Pictures over the use of Faulkner quotes in ads and movies. Faulkner filed the suit against Northrup on October 26, 2012 in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Judge Henry Wingate dismissed the case with prejudice on December 12 after the parties settled the case.




Northrop Grumman published an ad in The Washington **** for Independence Day in 2011 with the following quote against the background of an American Flag: "We must be free not because we claim freedom but because we practice it -William Faulkner".

The quote came from a Faulkner essay, "On Fear, The South in Labor", in a 1956 issue of Harper's Magazine. The suit alleged Northrop nor the newspaper obtained permission to publish the quote in the ad. The suit argues the ad misrepresented the quote as the full text of the passage is:

"We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it our freedom must be buttressed by a homogeny equally and unchallengeably free, no matter what color they are, so that all the other inimical forces everywhere- systems political or religious or racial or national- will not just respect us because we practice freedom, they will fear us because we do."


Somehow the plaintiff argues with a straight face that the defendants are breaking the law as the use of the Faulkner quote will bring "confusion" to the readers and cause them to think Faulkner, who has been dead for a looooong time, is endorsing Northrop. Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC even claims the actions of Northrop and The Washington **** are "malicious, fraudulent, deliberate, and/or willful." Wow. Publishing a well-known Faulkner quote in a favorable light is "malicious". FLR asked for unspecified damages for the alleged commercial misuse of the quote. The parties settled the lawsuit. The terms of any settlement are unknown.

However, Faulkner Literary Rights is not done ferreting out all misuses of anything Faulkner, real or imagined, as it is suing Sony Pictures for the misuse of a quote in the movie Midnight in Paris. There was real misuse as the character didn't even get the quote right. Faulkner filed suit in in U.S. District Court in Oxford on October 25 seeking damages over the alleged commercial appropriation of a Faulkner quote without the company's permission.

Sony produced the 2011 Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. The main character, Gil Pender (portrayed by Owen Wilson), misstates a Faulkner quote from a public speech in this passage:

"The past is not dead! Actually its 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 offending quote came from the book Requiem for a Nun. The correct quote is : "The past is never dead. Its not even the past."

Never let it be said no qood quote should go unpunished as Faulkner decided this was an improper use of the scribe's remarks chose to do something very American about a movie set in France: sue. Faulkner claims it is the owner of the book and the "original quote" and that Sony "infringed upon Faulkner's exclusive rights."

Faulker also argues the use of the quote creates "confusion" as people might think William Faulkner and his written works might be seen as "approval" or "sponsorship" of Sony. The complaint wraps up with the predictable language stating Sony did not obtain permission to use the quote, used the quote for commercial benefit, and Faulkner is thus entitled to damages.

The complaint, like the Northrop complaint, is only six pages long. One can imagine Faulkner has these complaints already printed with a fill in the blank section for the defendant as it eagerly scours the internet and movies for all perceived violations of Mr. Faulkner's legacy. Mickey Mouse would be proud.

However, Sony is well, Sony, and the company didn't settle the case but instead chose to fight back. Sony filed a motion to dismiss and a supporting thirty-two page memorandum on December 18. Sony claimed the use of a "nine word quotation" from a novel was a "de minimus use of the quote. Translation: The quote is too short and too trivial to merit copyright protection in the movie. Sony calls the book "obscure" and argues it is ridiculous to expect consumers to believe an author who has been dead for decades is endorsing a 2011 film. Indeed, this movie may generate more interest in the book that it ever received when Mr. Faulkner was alive but I digress. Sony also argues the use of the quote "is a fair use" and as such Sony is entitled to protection from the complaint.

Inspector Jauvert, oops, I meant Attorney and FLR owner Lee Caplin, defended these complaints to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal:

"These people should have known better," said Lee Caplin, a Los Angeles producer, who recently worked in Mississippi with actor-director James Franco on the film version of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying."

Caplin, manager of the Faulkner estate and Faulkner Literary Rights LLC, brings the lawsuits through the Oxford law firm Mayo and Mallette.

FLR, a Virginia company established by Faulkner's daughter Jill Faulkner Summers, owns all rights, titles and interest in his name, image and likeness
."

Sony argued there were no questions of fact (which are typically decided by a jury) and the only questions were at law (which can be decided by a judge). Sony also filed a motion to move the case to New York as the defendant is in New York, the plaintiff is not in Mississippi, and the witnesses are in New York. Faulkner is a Virginia company. Attorney J. Cal Mayo represents Faulkner. Local Butler Snow attorney and film critic took time from attacking Belhaven restaurants to represent Sony.

Sony motion to dismiss
Copy of Sony memorandum
New York Times article




Here is a funny comment made about these lawsuits in the comments section of The Guardian: Someone obviously found themselves a bit light in August and decided that someone else should pay. I hope the court sees the case for what it is, a load of sound and fury signifying diddly squat, and that the defendants remain the unvanquished. The law should remain a sanctuary from this kind of legal mischief-making. Faulkner himself never earned much more than soldiers' pay in his lifetime, even as he lay dying, so it must surely stick in his craw that these mosquitoes are looking to make a pile on work that will always transcend the squalid tactics of these intruders in the dust.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Local Butler Snow attorney and film critic took time from attacking Belhaven restaurants to represent Sony. "

Funny - did she defend her employer when they brazenly violated Ridgeland's code restrictions on height of new construction?

Seriously, does Faukner's daughter have any clue what the meaning of "fair use" is? To cite a quotation, accurately attributing the nine word snippet to the original author, as a passing quote in conversation, is not the same as wholesale printing of copyrighted novels and selling them on the black market. Sheeesh.

mary leadbeater said...

*Giggle* and big eye-roll, my first of 2013! The Faulkner Lit-ah-rahhhh-ry Society should feel pretty sheepish about this idiotic suit.

What's up next, o litigious ones? Shall God sue when the Bible is misquoted? Shakespeare takes a regular beatin' in the misquote department, as does Twain, as does just about every author famous enough to have had his or her words enter the collective consciousness of even the unlettered masses.

I was behind two gum-snappin' trailer-park-type gals in Kroger the other day, and one was loudly complaining that her boyfriend thinks she's CHEATIN'. "It's just all a bunch of ado about nothin'," she whined. I shoulda taken her name and reported her, in case the Shakespeare Literary Society wants to sue the security-camera company for recording her...

Thank Providence that my novel, *Annals of Ballitore*, is too obscure for anybody to pirate!

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the lawsuit MLK's kids filed against Howard B. Load of crap.

And the comment you brought over here--that writer did a fantastic job, giggled through it and all of the Faulkner references.

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