Yoko Ono lost her legal bid to block the producers of a film promoting "intelligent design" from using a 15-second excerpt of "Imagine," the 1971 song by Ono's late husband, John Lennon of the Beatles.
U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein said in a ruling Monday in Manhattan that Ono, her son, Sean, and stepson, Julian, and British record label EMI Group Plc were likely to lose their case against filmmakers Premise Media Corp. and Rampant Films. The lawsuit also named the film's Salt Lake City-based distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures Inc. as a defendant.
"On the basis of the current record, defendants are likely to prevail on their affirmative defense of fair use," Stein wrote in a 23-page opinion. "That doctrine provides that the fair use of copyrighted work for purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright."
"Expelled," narrated by actor and writer Ben Stein, criticizes U.S. educators for failing to teach children ideas that challenge Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory, which is broadly accepted as fact by scientists. The filmmakers argue that intelligent design is a viable explanation of how the universe works. The theory holds that the universe is too complex to have developed randomly and that a divine power created it.
The film premiered in 1,052 theaters in April and generated $7.2 million in box-office sales as of May 11, Stein said. By May 23, the film was showing in about 100 theaters, he said.
In his opinion, Stein said the filmmakers selected two lines from "Imagine" that they believe envision a world without religion: "Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too." Stein said the producers made fair use of the song by selecting these lines as a way to criticize Lennon's views.
Stein noted that the producers used just 15 seconds of a three-minute song, and that they didn't use other portions of the work that the filmmakers didn't seek to criticize.
"This decision weakens the rights of all copyright owners," Ono's lawyer, Peter Shukat, said in a statement. Ono plans to appeal, he said.
Stein, a former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, isn't a defendant in the case.