Woody Allen film cleared of copyright infringement

by Redmans on July 23, 2013

The Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” has reportedly been cleared of copyright infringement by a judge in the United States.

The lawsuit was brought by the owners of the rights to the literary works of the late William Faulkner after it was contended that a nine-word quote taken from one of Faulkner’s novels had been used in the film. The lawsuit contended that the film distributor, Sony, violated Faulkner’s copyright by allowing a character in the film to use a quote from Faulkner’s novel, “Requiem for a Nun”.

Midnight in Paris features Owen Wilson, who travels back in time in Paris and finds himself mixing with literary greats such as F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The contended copyright violation was that Wilson had said at one point in the film, “The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner? And he was right”. The owners of copyright in the Faulkner novel pointed to the fact that Faulkner wrote in “Requiem for a Nun” that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” They contended that this was a violation of their copyright and sued in the federal courts in Mississippi. Sony defended the claim on the basis that the use of the quote was “de minimis” and “fair use”.

In his ruling on the case, the Judge rejected the lawsuit and ruled that there was no copyright violation. He stated that the use of the quote was “fair use” as it was a transmogrification of the original wording for use in the film and that the use was not substantially similar but was transformative. The Judge also stated that there was “no substantial similarity between the copyrighted work and the allegedly infringing work, and Sony’s use in this matter was de minimis”. He declared that the use of the quote was not actionable and that therefore the claim was dismissed.

Chris Hadrill, a solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “There is always a grey line between when a work is substantially similar in a copyright case and when it is not. The Judge in this case obviously thought the published quote did not infringe on ‘Requiem for a Nun’ as a whole entity”.

Lee Caplin, from the Faulkner estate, commented: “We are obviously quite disappointed. We think it is going to be very bad for artists everywhere. Right now, our decision is to reconvene and analyze our next moves.”

Redmans Solicitors are solicitors offering settlement agreement legal advice offer employment law advice to employees and employers

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