Friday, April 25, 2008

Yoko Ono Sues Producers of Expelled Movie

I'm a bit late to this, but the Associated Press reported yesterday that Yoko Ono is suing the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed for the use of John Lennon's "Imagine." From the article:

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, Ono accuses the producers of ''Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed'' of suggesting to viewers that those who guard John Lennon's legacy somehow authorized or sponsored the film.


Ono's lawsuit claims the producers did not ask for permission either because they knew they couldn't get it or because they did not want to pay for the rights. It objects to the way ''Imagine'' is listed in the film's credits, saying it suggested to members of the news media and others that the song's use had been approved.

''Internet 'bloggers' immediately began accusing Mrs. Lennon of 'selling out' by licensing the song to defendants,'' says the complaint, filed this week.

The producers have claimed fair use, but as has already been pointed out at Sivacracy, I think it's unlikely that that defense will hold up. I'm interested to see how this turn out, not only because I'd like for nothing else than the financial ruin of the producers of a film littered with distortions, misinformation, and lies, but also to see the ruling regarding fair use.

I think Ono has a strong case, as the producers of Expelled clearly fail on factor (1) on the US copyright website describing fair use. I also think that Ono could make a case regarding factor (4) considering the negative publicity she has received because of the song's appearance in Expelled.

This isn't the only copyright infringement that has gotten Expelled into hot water, either. As PZ Myers pointed out, several of the animations appear to be plagiarisms of existing cellular animations by XVIVO and PBS. I'm not so sure that the animations infringement claim is strong enough to provide a case for either XVIVO or PBS to file suit, but Ono's case is solid.


jim veil said...

how do you feel about illegally trying to sell an artists music who you or someone else might have ripped on the internet? especially selling an artists work where the artist themselves barely got paid and is trying to survive.

illegal youth said...


I'll assume that you're talking about bootlegging, since you mention that someone else is trying to profit off another artist's work. In this case, i would not support some who sells another's work for profit. However, I want to mention this caveat -- today's copyright laws extend copy protection for far too long. Copyright law was originally designed to provide an incentive for artists to create further works. With the way that copyright has been extended, emerging artists are punished while established artists are protected.

Bootlegging is quite different from sharing, however. In my view, sharing a work is a way to promote that work. Since you mention music I can relate this -- all my life I have been exposed to new music because someone I know made me a copy of some music and gave me the copy for listening. I see nothing wrong with this kind of sharing.

People made cassette tapes for their friends all throughout the 80s and 90s (and in the 90s people moved towards burning CDs). Only recently has the music industry had a problem with this kind of sharing, and that is because of scale. Through the internet, people can share more music faster.

If you're under the assumption that musicians commonly make a large percentage of his/her money from the sale of copies of music, you'd be mistaken. Record labels make the most money off of those types of sale, so it seems that you would better direct your energies towards the unfair contract practices employed by record labels. Labels are going to go under some changes specifically because their previous role as producer/distributor is being challenged by emerging technology (bit torrent, pro tools, myspace music pages, etc.) and this frightens them.

Bands make money from performances more so than sales from copies of music. And even here, if I can relate this, we find music cultures that thrive on bootlegging live performances (Greatful Dead, Pearl Jam), yet we do not see the financial ruin of those bands. Instead, it is a way for the audience to be a part of the culture that they enjoy. I meant this because bootlegging and sharing are not black and white phenomenons, though, I would support sharing over bootlegging generally.

To relate all of this to the Yoko Ono suit, my post is a comment on the existing copyright laws and how I think the case will hold up in court. With the copyright laws we have now, Ono stands on solid ground. Here is where I will probably depart from other people on the subject -- while I despise what people like the producers of the Expelled movie are trying to do to science, I do think that everyone should have the ability to reuse existing works to create transgressive and derivative works. Such an extension of fair use would facilitate this; however, I think that is very unlikely considering the protectionist direction our copyright laws have been moving in the last 100 years.