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...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 5:43am

    Once their actions get traction people may start to avoid Faulkner whatsoever. Avoidance will generate ignorance. Ignorance will generate oblivion. Soon they'll manage to drop Faulkner to the sidelines of history. I don't think this is what Faulkner intended himself...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 7:48am

    As of the time of this comment, the ad is no longer available at that link.

     

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  3.  
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    Trails (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 7:48am

    Effect of the use upon the potential market

    Why would anyone buy a Faulkner book when they can just pull up the Washington Post from over a year ago and read one sentence in an ad?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 7:51am

    How smart is it to annoy a company that specializes in building devices that are capable of levelling cities?

    I hope that someone reminds the Faulkner estate that when these companies talk about "going nuclear", they aren't talking about patent or copyright.

     

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  5.  
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    Titania Bonham-Smythe (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 7:53am

    His Wikipedia page says he had extra-marital affairs and his neighbours didn't like him.

    Maybe Faulkner Literary Rights are taking these legal actions to make his misdeeds seem a little more likeable by comparison.

     

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  6.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 7:59am

    Re:

    "I don't think this is what Faulkner intended himself..."

    Especially saying things like "We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. -- William Faulkner"

     

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  7.  
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    atroon, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:02am

    I just want to know when we are going to see a reverse class-action lawsuit against all tenth-graders in the state of Nebraska for quoting Faulkner's work without permission or consideration in their Lit class essays.

    That should provide more than enough cash to keep the estate litigating these terrible misuses of Faulkner's work.

     

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  8.  
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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:05am

    *Sniff*Sniff*

    I smells a lawyer working on commission.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:06am

    Re: Effect of the use upon the potential market

    How much do you want to bet that some unscrupulous pirate is going to upload this sentence to the Pirate Bay, thus denying the Faulkner estate their deserved profit?

    /sarcasm

     

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  10.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:07am

    Re: Re:

    Oooh you will be hit with a nice lawsuit now and Techdirt will receive a DMCA request.

     

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  11.  
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    My kid in 5 years, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:09am

    Faulkner who?

     

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    smount (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:10am

    These claims are so baseless that I think this is a tempest in a teapot. The Faulkner estate has hired very bad counsel. End of story.

     

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  13.  
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    FEMA, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:11am

    Re: *Sniff*Sniff*

    Please do not sniff the lawyers, they are extremely toxic, and may cause hysteria.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:18am

    Re:

    What about the costs and time that the sued parties have to devote to defending these actions. These petty actions are forcing cost on other people.

     

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  15.  
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    Trails (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:23am

    Re: Re: Effect of the use upon the potential market

    I hear Razor 1911 is working on the crack as we speak...

     

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  16.  
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    Rob, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:24am

    Re: Re:

    Unless TV has lied to me, couldn't a judge force the estate to pay the defendant's costs if he found the suit to be baseless?

     

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  17.  
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    sehlat (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:30am

    Actually, the lawyers are inspired by Faulkner

    Specifically: "The Sound and the Fury" since that's pretty much what all these lawsuits are.

     

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  18.  
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    Richard (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:53am

    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".

     

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  19.  
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    Richard (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re: Actually, the lawyers are inspired by Faulkner

    and of course the previous line is even more apt and unflattering - "a tale told by an idiot"...

     

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  20.  
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    Beech, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 9:08am

    Hey guys

    Hey guys, look at it from the estates' side, if they let one filthy pirate get away with quoting a sentence here or a few words there, what comes next? Quoting 10 words? A sentence and a half? WHERE DOES THE MADNESS END?

    / sarcasm

     

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  21.  
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    gorehound (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 9:11am

    Faulkner Literary Rights
    You are making a baseless lame claim so you Greedy Moneygrubbers can suck more Money and you do not have the decency or moral behavior that you ought to have.

    Fuck Your Copyrights !!!!

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 9:24am

    Facts and truth really don't have much to do with each other.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 9:34am

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let this go to TRIAL and do NOT SETTLE because that is what they are hoping for... and I'm looking at you Northrop-Grumman. Chickening out will do no good for your corporate image.

     

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  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 9:55am

    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.)

     

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  25.  
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    JustMe (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 10:11am

    Sadly, I think the facts surrounding legal uses won't matter to the lawyers

    After all... "Facts and truth really don't have much to do with each other." William Faulkner

     

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  26.  
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    JustMe (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 10:13am

    Of course, Faulkner himself would probably want people to quote him

    After all... “It is the writer's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.” William Faulkner

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 10:25am

    I guess Faulkner plagiarized the title of The Sound and the Fury from Shakespeare. Just a few words, and not exactly, but let's let the courts decide!

     

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  28.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 10:30am

    Re:

    >>I don't think this is what Faulkner intended himself...

    His heirs seem to be more concerned about a quick money grab. At least on the surface it doesn't look like they care much about his legacy. It also looks like they have not read much of his work, or if they did they didn't take it to heart.

     

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  29.  
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    DOlz, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 10:37am

    Re:

    Are you implying that Northrop-Grumman might be chicken hawks?

     

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  30.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 10:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Defend a case on contingency? How would that work?

     

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  31.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 11:14am

    "I quote others only in order the better to express myself."

    -- Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

     

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  32.  
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    calicojones (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 11:20am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 11:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 12:29pm

    Re:

    There needs to be some kind of change, anyway. Lawsuits aren't supposed to be a business model. Patent trolls shouldn't exist.
    Trials are supposed to provide law and order, not a means of extortion.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2012 @ 1:29pm

    We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. -- William Faulkner

    Everyone should quote Faulkner to prove a point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 7:21pm

    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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  37.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:02pm

    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'.

     

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  38.  
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    btrussell (profile), Nov 1st, 2012 @ 4:38am

    Seems to me we need to quit giving attribution.

     

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  39.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Nov 2nd, 2012 @ 12:43am

    That might be just what they want.

    That might be just what they want.

    There's nothing like a ridiculous lawsuit to obtain publicity (presumably cheaper and more effective than mere advertising), and presumably an increase in book sales and revenue to the estate (and perks to the holders thereof).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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