Expelled steals from the dead

Expelled apparently features Imagine” by John Lennon , and the Lennon estate is not pleased.

But according to a lawyer for Ms. Ono, the filmmakers did not have permission to use the song [Imagine], for any amount of money.

Ms. Ono’s lawyer, Jonas Herbsman, of Shukat, Arrow, Hafer, Weber & Herbsman, said in an interview Wednesday: “It was not licensed.” With respect to the filmmakers, he says: “We are exploring all options.” It is not clear what remedies if any may be available to Ms. Ono.

In a written statement, the film’s three producers — Walt Ruloff, John Sullivan and Logan Craft — acknowledged that they did not seek permission, but they called the use “momentary.” “After seeking the opinion of legal counsel it was seen as a First Amendment issue and protected under the fair use doctrine of free speech,” the statement said. A spokeswoman said under 25 seconds of the song are used in the movie.

Michael Shermer writes to add:

In my book How We Believe (Henry Holt/Times Books, 2000), I have a chapter on how religious attitudes changed dramatically in the 1960s, and I wanted to include just four lines from Imagine, which I figured was within fair-use limits. My publisher thought otherwise and insisted that I get permission from Yoko first, so I wrote her, making it clear that the thesis of my book meshes well with the religious attitudes of John Lennon. She turned me down!

So if Yoko wouldn’t give me permission to print an excerpt, what are the chances that she’ll just let the Expelled folks get away with actually playing an excerpt from the song? I suspect that they are in big trouble now…

This isn’t the first time Expelled has been accused of copyright infringement. The animators behind “The Inner Life of the Cell” wrote a stern letter claiming that their 3D models of cellular mechanisms were infringed, and the producers responded by filing suit, and, in summary, stated: We didn’t steal it, and besides, we totally removed the stolen animation from the movie, which XVIVO couldn’t have seen since we expelled our critics from screenings. Plus, you can’t copyright images of the cell (“The allegedly copyrighted work, the Inner Life Video, attempts to model the interior of a living cell, matters of scientific fact or theory or scenes a faire, which can be expressed in a limited number of ways, and thus, ideas or scientific processes, which are not protectable.”)

Apparently they don’t think you can copyright a song now, either. Or perhaps they think they’re bigger than John Lennon, and (therefore bigger than Jesus).


  1. #1 J-Dog
    April 17, 2008

    No, I don’t think John would be very pleased at the Expell knuckleheads. He was waaaay too smart to be taken in by their bullshit.

    If the Expelled Producers wanted to approach a 70’s era rock band that WOULD fall for their line of crap, perhaps they should have tried the Archies, who had that Mega BubbleGum hit “Sugar”.

  2. #2 FutureMD
    April 17, 2008


    My photoshop is weak, but I sure try hard.

  3. #3 Duae Quartunciae
    April 17, 2008

    I’m gobsmacked at Shermer’s comment. In that case, he was not re-using “Imagine” in his own work, but was explicitly providing critical commentary and analysis on the song. How on Earth can it not be “fair use” to include four lines of a song for the purpose of discussing that song in relation to popular culture?

    That strikes me as copyright gone stark staring mad.

  4. #4 Joe Shelby
    April 18, 2008

    As I wrote elsewhere, Fair Use doesn’t just mean “I only used 20 seconds of it”. To qualify for Fair Use, that 20 second excerpt has to be used in conjunction with an objective, academic, or critical discussion of the work in question.

    Had “Imagine” led into a discussion about how the song was written and why the evangelicals hate it, that would be one thing (that’s how it was used in, for example, an episode of WKRP).

    But just throwing a song in the background is NOT Fair Use.

    If that were so, then we never would have had to deal with the horrendously cut episodes of WKRP on the first season DVD release.

  5. #5 Joe Shelby
    April 18, 2008

    However, Duae is correct – that example of Shermer was well within Fair Use rights.

    The trouble is, it wouldn’t have been Shermer to have had to defend it. The finances for defending fair use are the publishers.

    Given John’s freedoms with the song while he was alive (WKRP, The Killing Fields closing credits), I wonder why Yoko is today so over-protective of it.

  6. #6 Scott Simmons
    April 18, 2008

    “Given John’s freedoms with the song while he was alive (WKRP, The Killing Fields closing credits), I wonder why Yoko is today so over-protective of it.”

    Well, that one’s pretty easy. John had the expectation of continuing to produce paying music for the rest of his life. Yoko has the expectation of living the rest of hers off the proceeds of John’s all-too-short career …

  7. #7 OriGuy
    April 21, 2008

    You do not want Yoko Ono mad at you!

    She might sing.

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