Please don’t sue me, Mr. Faulkner!

The court interpreted the inclusion of the paraphrased quote in Midnight in Paris as actually helping Faulkner and the market value of Requiem if it had any effect at all.

From 1949; per Wikipedia description, image is in the public domain

I missed this initially, but a few months ago, a federal judge in Mississippi nixed a lawsuit brought by the heirs of William Faulkner. In dispute was the claim that “Woody Allen’s 2011 film ‘Midnight in Paris’ [had] improperly used one of William Faulkner’s most famous lines.” The librarian in me was pleased with the outcome but ticked that the suit was filed in the first place.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” Faulkner wrote in the book, ‘Requiem for a Nun.’ “In the movie, actor Owen Wilson, says: ‘The past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. I met him too. I ran into him at a dinner party.'”

Read the judge’s ruling. The Faulkner heirs claimed violation of copyright law but SONY Pictures, the defendant, claimed the Fair Use provision in the law, and, “alternatively, argued that the use of a quote was non-infringing under the de minimis doctrine (essentially a taking too small to rise to the level of infringement).”

Factor 1: Purpose and Character. These were considered quite different media and intent (comic film v. serious book).

Factor 2: Nature of the Copyrighted Work. While the book is subject to copyright protection, the movie was “transformative,” i.e., significantly altered from the original.

Factor 3: Substantiality of the Portion Used in Relation to the Copyrighted Work as a Whole. “At issue, in this case, is whether a single line from a full-length novel singly paraphrased and attributed to the original author in a full-length Hollywood film can be considered a copyright infringement. In this case, it cannot.”

Factor 4: Effect of the Use Upon the Potential Market for or Value of the Copyrighted Work. “[The court] interpreted the inclusion of the paraphrased quote in Midnight as actually helping Faulkner and ‘the market value of Requiem if it had any effect at all.’ The court also stated ‘how Hollywood’s flattering and artful use of literary allusion is a point of litigation, not celebration, is beyond this court’s comprehension.'”

The lawyer for the Faulkner literary estate, Lee Caplin, had also argued something called The Lanham Act, suggesting that the dialogue could confuse viewers “as to a perceived affiliation, connection or association” between Faulkner and Sony; the judge rejected this as well.

Caplin groused that the ruling “‘is problematic for authors throughout the United States” and “it’s going to be damaging to creative people everywhere.” If anything, had the ruling gone the other way, THAT would have created a chilling effect on everyone who might use a soupçon of copyrighted material.

MOVIE REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

I loved Woody Allen’s pictures. Annie Hall is my favorite, but I’m also fond of many other of his films from the 1970s and 1980s. But at some point, somewhere in the mid-1990s, they became really hit or miss for me. Now I only go if they are reasonably reviewed. So when last year’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger got mediocre reviews, I just passed on it, unseen. Bad Woody is painful Woody, because it really reminds me of what was.

So when Midnight in Paris got some positive feedback, I got the Wife to go to the Spectrum Theatre for a Tuesday night show; the Daughter was at the grandparents’ house.

And I loved it. The Wife loved it. This is my favorite Woody film since perhaps Purple Rose of Cairo. But I have a difficult time talking about it because the less you know, the better it’ll be.

I will say that Midnight in Paris is about an engaged couple, Gil and Inez (Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams) visiting Paris. Gil is a hack Hollywood writer who wants to create something more substantial and is finding his current location serving as his muse. Her friend Paul (played wonderfully by Michael Sheen) defines “pedantic”. Carla Bruni, the first lady of France (pictured with Wilson and Allen), adds context as a tour guide.

But the best parts are driven by Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, and a group of actors I was unfamiliar with, especially Corey Stoll as Ernest. Not to mention Marion Cotillard, who I last saw as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, who plays a pivotal role.

This isn’t exactly sunny Woody, but it is engaging Woody, an evolving Woody, or Woody proxy in the surprisingly believable Wilson, whose sole voiceover early on could have been spoken by the writer/director 30 years ago. The film also LOOKS brighter than most Allen films, which works here.

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