It had to happen. John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and sons, Sean and Julian Lennon, have sued the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed for using the song “Imagine” without permission.
Joining in the suit, filed today in U.S. District Music Inc. in Manhattan, is music publisher EMI Blackwood Music Inc. The complainants seek to bar the film’s makers and their distributors from continuing to use “Imagine” in the movie, which opened last Friday. The suit also seeks unspecified damages.
Expelled includes a 25-second excerpt from the 1971 song. The producers, Premise Media, claim their use of the song is legitimate.
The fair use doctrine is a well established copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism.
We are disappointed therefore that Yoko Ono and others have decided to challenge our free speech right to comment on the song Imagine in our documentary film.
Based on the fair use doctrine, news commentators and film documentarians regularly use material in the same way we do in EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed .
Premise Media acknowledges that Ms. Yoko Ono did not license the song for use in the Film. Instead, a very small portion of the song was used under the fair use doctrine.
Unbiased viewers of the film will see that the Imagine clip was used as part of a social commentary in the exercise of free speech and freedom of inquiry. Unbiased viewers of the film will also understand that the Imagine clip was used to contrast the messages in the Documentary and that the clip was not used as an endorsement within Expelled.
Also named as respondents in the suit are C&S Production LP and Rocky Mountain Pictures.
The suit creates a real problem for Expelled‘s creators, since they may have to remove the song from every copy of the film. It’s currently playing in 1,052 theaters nationwide.
Maybe they should have asked permission first.