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One Faulkner lawsuit tossed, Sony lobbies to dismiss another

OXFORD — The estate of William Faulkner has settled a copyright lawsuit against Northrop Grumman Corp. and The Washington Post Co. for using a Faulkner quote in a newspaper ad by the defense contractor.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate in Jackson dismissed the lawsuit Dec. 12. Terms of the settlement are sealed.

The Faulkner estate sued in 2012 over use of what it said was a quote from a 1956 essay Faulkner wrote in Harper’s Magazine. The Independence Day ad in the Post used the phrase: “We must be free; not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”

The same quote, but with different punctuation, was the conclusion to Faulkner’s essay criticizing the South’s response to school integration.

In a separate item, Sony Pictures has asked a federal judge in Mississippi to throw out a lawsuit over a Faulkner quote in the Sony-distributed Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris.”

If the judge denies the motion, Sony wants the case moved to New York, where the company has its U.S. headquarters.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mills in Oxford has not ruled on the motions. He has given the Faulkner estate until Jan. 22 to file briefs opposing them. Sony would then have until Feb. 8 to respond.

The Faulkner estate sued Sony in October 2011, saying the company infringed on the copyright when actor Owen Wilson slightly misquoted a line from Faulkner’s book “Requiem for a Nun.”

“Midnight in Paris” was released in 2011. It stars Wilson, who travels to Paris and finds himself spending time with literary greats including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

In the film, the Wilson character describes his experience by saying, “The past is not dead. Actually, it’s 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.”

In “Requiem for a Nun,” the Faulkner passage reads: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Sony claims the quote is “fair use,” a legal term meaning the user doesn’t have to license or pay for it.

Lee Caplin, who represents the estate, disagrees.

Caplin told The Associated Press at the time the lawsuit was filed that even though the movie snippet is short, it’s a key in summing-up the whole film, and that Allen took it because Faulkner said it better.

“This is Mr. Faulkner’s most famous quote,” Caplin said.

The studio argues in its motions that the quote comes from a “relatively obscure work” and the nine words have been paraphrased by others.

The lawsuit is based in the Lanham Act, a 1946 federal law that prohibits unfair competition and false advertising. The estate says the use of the quote suggests Faulkner sponsored or endorsed the film.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.


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