WOODY ALLEN / REQUIEM FOR A NUN - Copyright infringement?

Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC v. Sony Pictures Classics Inc., et al

‘My dad was a nun..’ said Baldrick. 

‘Don’t be silly…., how could that be?’ said Blackadder. 

‘Because… when the judge said “Profession?”, my dad responded “Nun”‘.  Replied Baldrick!  


This case concerns an ambitious claim by Faulkner Literary Rights against Sony. They claimed that the use of a quote from “Requiem for a Nun”, a book by William Faulkner, in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris”, amounted to copyright infringement.

Owen Wilson (the lead character) in Midnight in Paris misquoted Faulkner, and stated that: ‘The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.’  This is a variation on the quote in Requiem for a Nun which reads: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’

The courts tested for substantial similarity in copyright using both quantitative and qualitative analysis.  The plaintiff relied on the latter and stated that the quote was central to the theme of the book.  The courts rejected this under the established law that copyright protection does not reach to ideas (or concepts), only expression. 

The US District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi ultimately found that the use of the quote was considered de minimis - a trifle which the law does not concern itself with. In short, a snappy line paraphrased and credited to the original author was considered fair use.

The courts went on to add that if anything, the homage paid to William Faulkner in the film would increase the market value of Requiem for a Nun.  The fact that the case was even brought before the courts seemed to irk the judge who questioned ‘How Hollywood’s flattering and artful use of literary allusion’ came to be a point of litigation.

Kester Mather – Intern at New Media Law, 17/10/13

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

New Media Law latest news

Back to top

Copyright © 2007 New Media Law LLP
Disclaimer & Copyright notices

Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).