This post is part of an occasional series highlighting the type of risks which film and TV producers face and which are supposed to be covered by E&O insurance. The series aims to demonstrate that what might seem to a producer to be unjustified paranoia on the part of their lawyer is, in fact, well-founded paranoia. These posts will point to actual lawsuits which have been filed against film/TV producers for various alleged rights infringements (whether copyright, trade-mark, right of publicity, or otherwise) - and which inform the nit-picking approach taken by producer's counsel.
We generally try to avoid editorial comments on lawsuits in this series of posts, but oy vey: as reported by Alex Ben Block at Hollywood, Esq., Sony Pictures Classics, distributors of the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, are being sued in US federal court for copyright infringement, trade-mark related claims and personality appropriate-based claims by the estate of William Faulkner for a verbal reference in the film. As described by at The 1709 Blog:
In describing his experiences, Gil speaks the following lines: "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." Apparently neither Sony nor its co-defendants had sought prior permission to use Faulkner's original quote ("The past is never dead. It's not even past.")
The Hollywood Reporter has made available a copy of the filed statement of claim.
As Howard Knopf notes, with respect to the copyright infringement claim, Sony is being sued for "inaccurately and with attribution" "copying" nine words. Perhaps optimistically (but certainly normatively correctly), Knopf goes on to opine that,
"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...”
One would hope.
Alas, when it comes to E&O insurance clearance and the risks that insurers bear, this demonstrates yet again that one can perhaps never view a potential claim as too remote.