Those of us that work in the field of intellectual property law have gotten really familiar with a species known as trolls. I’m not talking about mythical Norse creatures. I’m talking about patent trolls, trademark trolls, and copyright trolls. To the uninitiated, these various species of trolls are essentially people and companies that attempt to profit through intellectual property rights by acquiring them and exploiting them exclusively through litigation. They do not create anything themselves.
In any event, it appears that Mississippi has itself a troll problem in the form of William Faulkner’s Estate. The estate has apparently launched a number of lawsuits against companies that have, in various forms, made passing reference to Faulkner’s works in commercials and movies. Two examples include: (1) a suit against Northrop Grumman and the Washington Post for a Fourth of July ad which lifted the Faulkner quote: “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it”; and (2) a suit against Sony for a quote in the movie Midnight In Paris, “The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past.”
These suits appear to have been brought by Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC. The article linked previously seems to indicate that Faulkner’s daughter is the current owner of Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC. Unfortunately, copyrights live well beyond the life of the author, so its common that heirs can simply exploit rights while simultaneously tarnishing the legacy of the original author. Sadly, I think this is one of the biggest tragedies of our copyright system–and that’s saying something, given some of the ridiculous provisions in American copyright law.