Tag Archives: Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono loses copyright suit over use of Lennon’s Imagine

On June 2nd, the judge in the copyright infringement case Yoko Ono brought against the creators of the film “Expelled” for their use of John Lennon’s song Imagine has ruled in favor of the filmmakers based on a the “fair use” doctrine.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein rule that “the doctrine provides that the fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright.”.

You can read the judges entire decision here. Those interested in the fair use doctrine should take the time to read the judges opinion because he very thoughtfully describes and then rules on each of the criteria that make up fair use.

  • The Purpose and Character of the Use
  • The Nature of the Copyrighted Work
  • The Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used in Relation to the Copyrighted Work as a Whole
  • The Effect of the Use Upon the Potential Market for or Value of the Copyrighted Work
  • The judge’s decision seemed mainly to rest on a subsection of “The Purpose and Character of the Use”, namely Transformative Use. Here is the ruling.

    ii. Transformative Use
    A work is transformative if it does not “merely supersede the objects of the original
    creation” but “instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” Although transformative use “is not absolutely necessary for a finding of fair use, the goal of copyright, to promote science and the arts, is generally furthered by the creation of transformative works.” Thus, transformative works “lie at the heart of the fair use doctrine’s guarantee of breathing space within the confines of copyright.”

    There is a strong presumption that this factor favors a finding of fair use where the allegedly infringing work can be characterized as involving one of the purposes enumerated in 17 U.S.C. 107: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching . . ., scholarship, or research.

    Defendants’ use is transformative because the movie incorporates an excerpt of “Imagine” for purposes of criticism and commentary. The filmmakers selected two lines of the song that they believe envision a world without religion: “Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too.” As one of the producers of “Expelled” explains, the filmmakers paired these lyrics and the accompanying music to a sequence of images that “provide a layered criticism and commentary of the song.” The Cold War-era images of marching soldiers, followed by the image of Stalin, express the filmmakers’ view that the song’s secular utopian vision “cannot be maintained without realization in a politicized form” and that the form it will ultimately take is dictatorship. The movie thus uses the excerpt of “Imagine” to criticize what the filmmakers see as the naivety of John Lennon’s views.

    Conclusion Regarding Fair Use
    The balance of factors clearly favors a finding of fair use. Defendants’ use of “Imagine” is transformative because their purpose is to criticize the song’s message. Moreover, the amount and substantiality of the portion used is reasonable in light of defendants’ purpose. Although “Imagine,” as a creative work, is at the core of copyright protection, and defendants’ use of the song is at least partially commercial in nature, the weight of these factors against a finding of fair use is limited given that defendants’ use is transformative. Finally, plaintiffs have not shown that defendants’ use will usurp the market for licensing the song for non-transformative purposes. In sum, allowing defendants’ use would better serve “the copyright law’s goal of promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts . . . than [would] preventing it.”


    Ono’s position had been that she had the right to control use of the song by reviewing and choosing licenses. She also had the right to reject uses of the song. She brought the suit because she believe the filmmakers had “looted her of the ability to do so”.

    Fair Use of Lennon’s Imagine in Expelled?

    Yoko Ono’s attempt to get an injunction against the film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” will shine a much needed light on current interpretations of the “fair use” provision of copyright law. Fair use is easily the haziest and least understood aspect of US copyright law.

    Yoko Ono (and EMI and Capital Records) is seeking to have about 15 seconds of John Lennon’s recording of Imagine removed from the film. The injunction doesn’t ask for the film to be removed from theaters, it is asking for Lennon’s music to be removed from the film.

    from the New York Times coverage

    Ono sued in state and federal court, accusing the movie’s producers of infringing on the song’s copyright by using parts without her permission.

    The movie, which opened on U.S. screens in April and is set for release in Canada on June 6 and on DVD in October, presents a sympathetic view of intelligent design, the theory that the universe is too complex to be explained by evolution alone.

    The filmmakers acknowledge they did not ask Ono for permission to use 15 to 20 seconds of the song. But they argue they are protected by the ”fair use” doctrine, which permits small parts of a copyrighted work to be used without an author’s permission under certain circumstances.

    At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan this week, the filmmakers’ lawyer, Anthony T. Falzone, said that if the judge granted Ono’s request for an injunction against the film, it would ”muzzle” the filmmakers’ free-speech rights.

    Falzone said the segment of the song in the film — ”nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too” — was central to the movie because ”it represents the most popular and persuasive embodiment of this viewpoint that the world is better off without religion.”

    The film, he said, is ”asking if John Lennon was right and it’s concluding he was wrong.”

    [Sidenote] Actually I don’t think John Lennon was saying in Imagine that the world would be better off without religion, I think he was saying that people get tied to their own particular beliefs and by doing so a lot of trouble is created in the world. Imagine is about breaking out of boundaries that are created by oneself.[end Sidenote]

    The filmmakers’ attorney, Anthony Falzone is the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a lecturer in law at Stanford University. He believes very strongly that copyright law, as it stands now, is in major need of reform. You can read his brief in this case here.

    I notice that Mr. Falzone is associated with the Center for Internet and Society at Standford Law School. This is not surprising. A large faction of those that work and think about the Internet (Wired, Fast Company) would like to broaden current interpretations of copyright law and especially fair use.

    Getting to a contemporary interpretation of fair use is incredibly important because of the use or misuse of copyrighted work on the Internet. Part of YouTube’s main defense against Viacom will be arguing fair use (amongst other things like DMCA).

    ————–
    What the law says about fair use…
    ————–
    107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include

    (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
    (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.