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

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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