Sunday, October 28, 2012
SONY On Trial in Mississippi for Woody Allen Flick Copying Two Sentences (Nine Words) Inaccurately and with Attribution
The latest arguably excessively aggressive copyright litigation in the USA involves the attributed quote – or actually the slight misquote – of a couple of brief sentences from the late William Faulkner's Requiem For A Nun in a movie by Woody Allen.
Mr. Faulkner wrote:
"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
Mr. Allen’s movie, Midnight In Paris, supposedly has the following as part of the dialogue:
"The past is not dead" Actually, it's not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner.”
It should go without saying that any Canadian or UK court would toss this as “insubstantial copying”, without the need to even look at fair dealing. It’s two short sentences, and nine words. Almost nobody would consider the quotation involved here to be “substantial” or more than “de minimis”, although it was astonishingly suggested in the K-12 case in the Supreme Court of Canada that copying more than one sentence is “substantial”. Fortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada completely ignored this submission.
However, that said, there is some arguably rogue and wrong but often cited appellate law in the USA (Bridgeport v. Dimension Films, 6th Circuit, 2005) that even copying of just a millisecond of a song may be infringing. Well – one has to admit that this is, at least, a “bright line”, as that Court stated.
The Faulkner case is not in the 6th Circuit. What is important to know about this lawsuit is that it was filed in the Federal District Court in Oxford, Mississippi – the home of town of William Faulkner. A jury trial has been demanded. Anyone wanting to read up on jury trials in Mississippi may wish to consult John Grisham’s non-authoritative but very provocative and best-selling fictional effort entitled “The Runaway Jury”.
BTW, William Faulkner died on July 6, 1962. His works will go into the public domain in Canada at the end of this year.