News Column

Suits Claim Illegal Uses of Famed Faulkner Words

Oct. 26, 2012

Patsy R. Brumfield, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo

Nobel laureate William Faulkner reaches out from the grave to legally slap the hands of two giant corporations and a Pulitzer prize-winning newspaper.

His lawyers say they used the iconic writer's words without his permission.

"These people should have known better," said Lee Caplin, a Los Angeles producer, who recently worked in Mississippi with actor-director James Franco on the film version of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying."

Caplin, manager of the Faulkner estate and Faulkner Literary Rights LLC, brings the lawsuits through the Oxford law firm Mayo and Mallette.

FLR, a Virginia company established by Faulkner's daughter Jill Faulkner Summers, owns all rights, titles and interest in his name, image and likeness.

Two lawsuits on file this week in Mississippi federal courts ask for compensation and other damages against defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. and The Washington Post Co., in the Southern District, and against Sony Pictures Classics Inc. and up to 100 people yet to be named, in the Northern District.

The defendants have yet to respond to the allegations.

FLR claims:

--On July 4, 2011, Northrop Grumman ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post containing the Faulkner quote: "We must be free and not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it."

Most of the ad was a large color photograph of an American flag with the Faulkner quote across the top, noting at the bottom that on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, "making us a free nation."

--In 2011, Sony distributed and marketed the movie, "Midnight in Paris," written and directed by Woody Allen. In the film, a time-traveling character played by actor Owen Wilson tells a friend, "The past is not dead! Actually, it's not even past," saying he's met and heard those words from Faulkner.

The passage comes from Faulkner's book "Requiem for a Nun" and reads: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Both lawsuits say the companies used Faulkner's work for their own financial benefit and that the great man's legacy company is due damages.

Caplin said Faulkner "was never about money," but he likely would have wanted to be consulted for permission before a company made commercial use of his work.

Mayo says the Northrop Grumman use of Faulkner's quote is particularly troublesome because it comes from a 1956 Harper's magazine essay reflecting on the aftermath of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision to abolish school desegregation and racial inequality, and it's not about freedom per se.

The lawsuits do not specify what monetary damages are asked but leave that to Mississippi juries to determine, if they agree with the complaints.

Source: (c)2012 Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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