“Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen run afoul of Faulkner

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The creators of Oscar nominated film “Midnight in Paris” and its iconic director Woody Allen have found themselves in hot water for stealing a line from William Faulkner’s classic “Requiem for a Nun.”  The movie, which depicts a man who can travel back in time at midnight in the French capital, adapted its own take on Faulkner’s famous line by adding a single word.  Although the quote has been used frequently in other various projects, including a TV series created by Ron Howard, Sony Pictures Classics did not receive permission to use the quote and therefore infringed on Faulkner’s copyright.

Faulkner’s estate sued Sony and Allen for infringement citing the importance of the quote to the movie and the profits the movie has enjoyed from its use.  It is evident that the movie took the quote and only added the word “actually” to create “the past is not dead.  Actually, it’s not even past.”  But, does this adaptation constitute fair use and allow the movie to profit off using the quote?

Lawyers for the Faulkner estate make a valid point when they highlight the various other projects that have asked permission prior to using parts of the book as evidence that infringement occurred.  However, the real question is did the movie really infringe upon the copyright by using one sentence and altering it slightly.  In my opinion, the movie undoubtedly profited off the use of the quotation and should have obtained permission prior to using it.  The movie was enhanced by the inclusion of Faulkner’s quote and the studio and writer should not be able to benefit off someone else’s work.

The Faulkner estate has done the necessary work to protect his literary work and it is important for them to be able to profit off of his creations through licensing fees.  In this case, do you think that Sony ran afoul of Faulkner’s copyright by using one sentence in its movie, or was this just a fair use of the quote?

Source: CNN News

Photograph Source: Telegraph

One comment

  1. This is an interesting case. Rarely do you see such a heralded filmmaker such as Woody Allen at the center of a dispute such as this. While I understand the arguments made by the estate of Faulkner, I think that the use of the quotation falls in to the realm of fair use. The quote is from a movie, yes, and it is a well-known line in that movie, but it is merely one line. The quotation in relation to the rest of the copyrighted work is infinitesimal. I see the usage as more of homage to Faulkner rather than a disservice to him. The recognition of the quotation in more recent movies could also spur a growth in the purchase of Faulkner works. Woody Allen is a genius in his own right, and I don’t think that the success of Midnight in Paris hinged on the inclusion of Faulkner’s line, nor do I think the works of Faulkner will suffer either because of it.

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