William Faulkner's Estate Sues Sony Over 'Midnight in Paris' Line - New York Estate Planning News

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William Faulkner's Estate Sues Sony Over 'Midnight in Paris' Line

The heirs of William Faulkner are alive and well, and they're defending the late author's legacy in a pair of lawsuits.

The lawsuits allege the same thing: that a copyrighted phrase was misappropriated, writes The Associated Press.

Faulkner's estate is suing Sony Pictures Classics over the use of the phrase, "The past is not dead! Actually, it's not even past." The line was used in the 2011 film "Midnight in Paris."

While it's not a direct quote from Faulkner's "Requiem for a Nun," it's still close enough for Faulkner's heirs to pursue a copyright lawsuit.

The estate is also suing Northrop Grumman Corp. and The Washington Post Co. for their use of the phrase, "We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it."

This phrase was used in a Northrop Grumman newspaper ad that appeared in the Post, writes The Hollywood Reporter. But it first appeared in Harper's Magazine, in an essay written by Faulkner.

The issue of law here is whether the phrases are "fair use" or whether they are the intellectual property of the estate.

Fair use implies that part of a copyrighted work can be used without obtaining permission, if it's an excerpt. The excerpt must be short and part of a new piece of work, writes The Associated Press.

The difference with the Sony lawsuit and the Northrop Grumman lawsuit is that the latter is commercial speech and will benefit from even less protection, under the First Amendment.

But more interesting than the copyright law issues are the fact that an estate can bring a lawsuit, even after the original author of the works is dead and gone.

For authors, songwriters and other artists, the issue of intellectual property comes into play when planning estates. Will the author's heirs benefit from royalties later on, once the author has passed away? If so, how will the royalties be enforced?

And that's exactly what Faulkner's heirs are trying to do: enforce payment for the use of property they claim is part of Faulkner's estate.

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