Berman & Asbel, LLP

'The past is not dead:' Estate of author sues Hollywood director

Most people in the estate planning process probably aren't worried about their writings or their person being used as a character in a film. However, there is a case playing out right now which takes this exact idea, which would make an excellent premise for a movie, and shows how the property of an estate can continue to be protected long after the decedent is gone.

Hollywood director Woody Allen's films are often talked about, but typically not because of legal action against the studio. The estate of great American author William Faulkner is suing Allen for use of Faulkner's personality and writings in his recent film Midnight in Paris. In the film, Owen Wilson plays a modern-day Hollywood screenwriter, who, in his visits to Paris is transported to the 'roaring 20s' at night. In these scenes, he meets with various personalities, notably authors Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. At some point in the film, Wilson's character quotes Faulkner directly: "The past is not dead. Actually, it's not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner."

Sony is being sued by the estate of William Faulkner, claiming that the studio did not have the "consent to appropriate William Faulkner's name or his works," and that the distribution of the film was "malicious, fraudulent, deliberate and/or willful." The estate is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees.

Estate planning can often be a morose and unfortunate thing to think about. Cases like this, which show the long-term legal effects of a well-planned estate, can help to give more positive examples of the estate planning process.

Source: Vanity Fair, "The Screen and the Fury? William Faulkner's Estate Sues Over Woody Allen Film," Julie Miller, Oct. 26, 2012

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