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Judge dismisses William Faulkner copyright infringement suit

Quite awhile ago, we told Los Angeles readers about the copyright infringement suit that the estate of author William Faulkner had filed over the use of a line of Faulkner's in Woody Allen's successful 2011 film "Midnight in Paris."

Last Thursday, a federal judge in Mississippi dismissed the lawsuit, saying the use of the nine-word quote constituted fair use.

("Fair use" meaning it is an unathorized-yet-permissible use of a small portion of a copyrighted work.)

In his 17-page ruling, the judge left little room for doubt that the line -- which is spoken by Owen Wilson's character, who then says, "You know who said that? Faulkner" -- was fair use.

"At issue in this case is whether a single line from a full-length novel...(that has been) attributed to the original author in a full-length Hollywood film can be considered a copyright infringement," he wrote, before succinctly stating "in this case, it cannot."

When the lawsuit was filed, many observers were puzzled. Using a nine-word phrase from a novel and making clear that it came from the original author's pen was almost clearly fair use, so it was not obvious what Faulkner's estate was angry about (besides not getting paid, of course.)

Copyright cases are not always this simple, however. When situations get tricky, it can be helpful to engage an experienced intellectual property attorney. Intellectual property attorneys generally have the legal knowledge to handle copyright cases, and working with one who has experience means he or she will have valuable on-the-job know-how.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Judge dismisses lawsuit over Faulkner line in 'Midnight in Paris,'" Ryan Faughnder, July 18, 2013