Yoko Ono’s copyright infringement suit against the makers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed for using 15 seconds of the Lennon song Imagine was thrown out of court. Of course we all knew it was no more than a nuisance suit brought because Ono didn’t approve of the film’s negative view of the philosophy expressed in Imagine.
The Fair Use Project of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society today announced that Yoko Ono’s attempt to enjoin Premise Media’s documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” has been denied.
The film, released in the United States last month on more than 1000 theater screens nationwide, explores whether proponents of intelligent design are being discriminated against unfairly in academia and beyond. The film uses a 15-second clip from John Lennon’s song “Imagine” to criticize both the song and the anti-religious message it conveys—that the world might be a better place without religion. Ono asked the court to enjoin continued distribution of the film in its present form and to recall and destroy existing copies. The Fair Use Project is representing Premise Media and the other defendants in the case pro bono, along with the national law firm Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP.
In a ruling issued today, Judge Sidney H. Stein of the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York rejected Ono’s request. In holding that Premise Media is likely to prevail under copyright’s fair use doctrine, the court recognized that the film used a limited portion of “Imagine” to criticize the song and the views expressed in it, and to make further social commentary. While the lawsuit is still pending, today’s decision helps pave the way for further distribution of the film in theaters and on DVD.
“This case is not just about fair use, it is about free speech,” explained Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project and lead counsel on the case. “The right to use portions of copyrighted works in order to criticize them and discuss the views they represent lies at the heart of the fair use doctrine because that right is essential to the free flow of ideas, thoughts, and debate.”