Expelled — Yoko Ono’s Lawsuit

WE DON’T NEED to add very much to this press release: Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project to Represent Filmmakers in Lawsuit Brought by Yoko Ono. Excerpts:

The Fair Use Project of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society today announced that it is signing on to defend Premise Media’s right to use a clip of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in its documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” [www.expelledthemovie.com] for the purposes of commentary and criticism.


Premise Media contends it has the right to use the song under the fair use doctrine, which among other things permits the use of copyrighted material for the purpose of comment, criticism, and discussion.


“We included the ‘Imagine’ clip not only to illuminate Ben Stein’s commentary but to criticize the ideas expressed in the song,” says Logan Craft, chairman and executive producer of Premise Media.

Yoko Ono and the other plaintiffs are trying to redefine the Constitution and the free speech protection it affords,” Craft continued. “Our movie is about freedom — the freedom to discuss alternative views of how life began on our planet, the freedom to ask reasonable questions about the adequacy of Darwin’s theory, and the freedom to challenge an entrenched establishment. Now we find that we also have to fight for our free speech rights.”

Poor babies. Stealing copyrighted music for use in a film is their idea of free speech. [Oh, that’s allegedly stealing.]

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2 responses to “Expelled — Yoko Ono’s Lawsuit

  1. longshadow

    I’m not sure how one can defend the usage of the song in the film on the basis of “Fair Use” if the film makers never actually discuss, comment on, or analysze the song or its lyrics.

    Being a sane person, I, of course, have no intention of paying money to see this film, so I have no first-hand knowledge of the usage of the song. However, from all accounts I have read about the movie, I have yet to see one that describes any discussion or commentary in the film vis-a-vis the song or its lyrics. As best I understand it, all they do is play part of the song, and run printed text of the lyrics on the screen while it plays.

    How exactly is that “discussion, analysis, or commentary” on the song? How exactly is that “Fair Use?”

    If that’s “Fair Use,” then I should be able to co-opt any song I want to use in my movie soundtrack by merely showing a plausible linkage between the film’s subject matter and some words in the lyrics of the song I’m swiping for my sound track.

    Thus, if I make a documentary about “Time” I can, under the legal theory being advanced by the “Expelled” film makers, steal part of Pink Floyd’s song “Time” and stick it into the soundtrack of my movie without permission or payment to the copyright holders, as long as I run the text of the lyrics:

    “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
    Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
    Hanging on in quiet desperation is the english way
    The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”

    on screen as the song plays in the background.

    If that constitutes “Fair Use,” every song ever written is fair game for being swiped for commercial use under the most flimsy of pretenses.

  2. Greg Wright

    longshadow: The following quote is from the American University Center for Social Media’s booklet “Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of BEST PRACTICES IN FAIR USE,” page 4.

    “Here the concern is with material (again of whatever kind) that is quoted not because
    it is, in itself, the object of critique but because
    it aptly illustrates some argument or point that
    a filmmaker is developing—as clips from fiction
    films might be used (for example) to demonstrate
    changing American attitudes toward race. … The
    possibility that the quotes might entertain
    and engage an audience as well as illustrate
    a filmmaker’s argument takes nothing away
    from the fair use claim.”

    Click to access bestpractices.pdf

    This is a policy statement and not a legal finding, but it does demonstrate that Stanford is not the only academic institution whose “doctrine” supports Premise’s position.

    Whether or not AU’s or Stanford’s position (and by extension, Premise’s) will be supported by the courts is another matter.