Quotations can be fair use

By Andrew Hudson Published: July 14, 2013 Updated: May 3, 2016

Is using a quotation fair use? I can’t find much case law on this but now there’s an answer courtesy of a Woody Allen movie. Yes, at least when a movie uses a nine-word quotation from a 220-page novel.

“The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner.”
— Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
— William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

“Sony’s use in this matter was de minimis. The use is not actionable, and this claim is dismissed.”
Faulkner v Sony, 2013

“Qualitative importance to society of a nine-word quote is not the same as qualitative importance to the originating work as a whole. Moreover, it should go without saying that the quote at issue is of miniscule quantitative importance to the work as a whole. Thus, the court considers both the qualitative and quantitative analyses to tip in favor of fair use.”
Faulkner v Sony, 2013

Changing the medium from a serious book to a comedy movie helped the fair use defense.

“This transmogrification in medium tips this factor in favor of transformative, and thus, fair use.”
Faulkner v Sony, 2013

Sources: Hollywood Rerporter, 2013, Faulkner v Sony, 2013. Image credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

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