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).