Faulkner Estate Keeps Suing: Sues Washington Post Over Ad That Quoted One Sentence

from the new-righthaven? dept

It appears that Faulkner Literary Rights — the operation set up by the estate of William Faulkner to oversee his copyrights — has really decided to go all in with the crazy lawsuits. Last week, we wrote about it suing Sony Pictures because of a Woody Allen movie (Midnight in Paris) in which the character played by Owen Wilson misquotes a Faulkner line (while also saying it was by Faulkner). The quote was all of nine words from a Faulkner book. I’m not quite sure what Faulkner’s estate is thinking, but it seems they believe that anyone who quotes the bare minimum of Faulkner owes them money. The second lawsuit, filed Friday, was against the Washington Post and defense contractor giant Northrop Grumman. Why? Because Northrop Grumman ran an ad in the Washington Post that quoted (with attribution) a single sentence from a Harper’s article that Faulkner once wrote.

The ad, which ran on July 4th, 2011, included: “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. — William Faulkner.” It had a giant image of an American flag and some more text celebrating July 4th. As of the time of this posting, Northrop still has a pdf of the ad on its site (pdf). Pretty harmless. But Faulkner’s estate pulls out the same arguments it used against Sony Pictures against both Northrop and the Washington Post — both copyright and trademark claims.

Once again, it appears that both companies have very strong defenses as either de minimis use or fair use — though, again, I’d be worried about both companies deciding it’s cheaper to pay off the Faulkner people than fight this.

Given two such crazy cases filed in two days, for such short quotations, how likely is it that these are the only such lawsuits the Faulkner estate intends to file? Stay tuned…

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Companies: northrop grumman, washington post

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Comments on “Faulkner Estate Keeps Suing: Sues Washington Post Over Ad That Quoted One Sentence”

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39 Comments
John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That may be true (I honestly don’t know), but if so, the defendant still has to pay the bills while the case is being heard. They’d just be reimbursed after it is over. If they’re lucky, they’ll find a lawyer that is willing to take the case on contingency, but that’s not as easy as some people think — and even then, that only covers the lawyer’s time. They’d still have to pay actual expenses themselves (court fees, etc.)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Exactly.

I can imagine a case so completely one-sided that the defense is a gimme and the defense costs are all but guaranteed to be covered by the plaintiff. I can also imagine that I can suddenly become a billionaire through a freak inheritance from some wealthy relative I was previously unaware of. Both of those things are about equally likely.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Actually, the lawyers are inspired by Faulkner

Ironically Faulkner himself should be sued for that by the estate of William Shakespeare – since it is clearly a misquote of the line “full of sound and fury” from Macbeth.
Of course the next words sort of indicate the lack of sense of these lawsuits – “signifying nothing”.

calicojones (profile) says:

Right now, it’s all carrot for lawyers who choose to go this route. There’s no stick.

Here’s a radical idea.

Change the system to where, if you file a lawsuit, it MUST go to trial. No payoffs to just go away. Lawyers fees for both sides are rolled into the final settlement as a percentage. The losing side lawyers get minimum wage for hours worked, while the winning side lawyers get what’s left. And that’s added ON TOP of the base settlement that MUST go directly to the winning side, NOT the lawyers.

I know, I know, there’s probably a million and one holes in that plan, but it’s nice to dream.

That One Guy says:

Re: Re:

I would love to see a system like this implemented.

If nothing else, the ‘must go to trial’ part would absolutely gut the patent/porn trolling business, since most of the time the absolute last thing those people want is for people to actually be able to examine their ‘evidence of wrongdoing/infringement’.

G Thompson (profile) says:

For me one of Faulkner’s quotes absolutely speaks volumes about his estate and the way they are acting.

?Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.?
― William Faulkner

Come at me Faulkner Literary Rights!!!!!!

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