The literary estate of William Faulkner has been on quite a tear this past week.  On October 25th it filed a copyright infringement suit against Sony Pictures Classics, and on October 26th another against Northrop Grumman Corporation and The Washington Post.  Both suits center around the attibuted use of a famous Faulkner aphorism.  In the Sony case the alleged infringement is a line spoken by the Owen Wilson character in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: “The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past.  You know who said that?  Faulkner.”  Northrup Grumman arises out of a July 4th adverisement that the company ran in the Washington Post, which included the following:

We must be free

not because we claim freedom,

but because we practice it.

— William Faulkner

Is it all sound and fury, signifying nothing?  Or could this mean the end of the epigraph business?

I wouldn’t put my money on these presumably well-meaning heirs and assigns.  Although I was less taken with the cleverness of Midnight in Paris than many, Woody Allen’s use of the Faulkner passage, fewer than 10 words from a full-length novel, spoken by a contemporary writer who makes nocturnal visits to the literary salons of 1920s Paris, seems to be the quintessence of a “transformative” use, i.e., it in no way supersedes or replaces Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun, or any passage from it, but instead “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.”  Northrup’s use of a slightly longer passage from a short essay as an epigraph to a commercial advertisement presents a closer case on copyright fair use, but nonetheless I would think if the estate has any chance at all, it will be on its (still rather attenuated) claims that the ad might cause confusion “as to the origin, sponsorship or approval of Northrop’s goods, services or commercial activity by William Faulkner.”

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Recent Posts

  • Unfair to Genius

    Unfair to Genius is an enlightening and entertaining romp through 60 tumultuous years of legal, artistic, and economic change in the American popular music industry, as seen through the lens of one of its most prolific copyright litigants and legendary outsiders, Ira B. Arnstein. "I suppose we have to take the bad with the good in our system which gives everyone their day in court," Irving Berlin once said, but "Arnstein is stretching his day into a lifetime."

    "Rosen paints a fascinating portrait of one of history's most fertile creative eras--the rise of Tin Pan Alley, or the 'Age of the Songwriter' as Rosen calls it--and the book brims with history relevant to today's disruptive technology climate."

    -Publishers Weekly

    "There's fun to be found in 'Unfair to Genius' as it leavens legal history with showbiz anecdote, and insight with amusement."

    -The Wall Street Journal

    “Superbly researched and written . . . Rosen deftly plots the rise of the music industry in America."


  • Categories

  • Gary A. Rosen

    Gary A. Rosen, a lawyer, has litigated copyright, patent, and other intellectual property cases for more than 25 years, and is a Lecturer in Legal Studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Before entering private practice, he served as a law clerk to federal appellate judge and award-winning legal historian A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. He holds a degree in physics from Haverford College and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School. He and his wife Lisa, a physician, and their two children live outside Philadelphia.
  • Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: