July 19, 2013

William Faulkner is never dead. He just needs to get the hell out of court.

So the estate of William Faulkner sued Sony Pictures Classics over the line "The past is not dead. Actually, it's not even past," spoken by the Owen Wilson character in the Woody Allen movie "Midnight in Paris." The line is a paraphrase of a famous Faulkner quote "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

The judge said: "The copyrighted work is a serious piece of literature lifted for use in a speaking part in a movie comedy, as opposed to a printed portion of a novel printed in a newspaper, or a song's melody sampled in another song. This transmogrification in medium tips this factor in favour of transformative, and thus, fair use."

Oh, good lord. I'm sure we're allowed to quote that quote whenever we want, in newspapers and songs, even pretending we just thought it up, without getting permission from the Faulkner people and without crediting Faulkner.
Anyone can Google who said the past is never dead it's not even past (or the Woody Allen paraphrase) will get to the details about Faulkner. And now, they'll also get to the news of the heirs' disgusting effort to cash in on a cliché that had long ago run free into the common speech.

Hey, I said that first, moaned the undead William Faulkner in his grave.

If zombie Faulkner is that petty, I don't want to read him. And if the descendants of Faulkner want us to think that he is, they should sue themselves for defaming him.

ADDED: The Woody Allen line did give Faulker credit, in the script itself (if not in the closing credits):
"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."
And here's (PDF) the opinion itself, which does not spell "favor" "favour," despite the way it's quoted at the first link, which goes to The Guardian.