After both the state and federal courts rejected the attempts of Yoko Ono Lennon and EMI Records to enjoin the showing of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed on the ground it used a 15-second fragment of John Lennon's Imagine, all of the plaintiffs in both cases have now withdrawn their claims and dismissed their cases.
This is the right result to be sure. There should never have been any doubt the filmmakers who were sued here had every right to use a short segment of a song for the purpose of criticizing it and the views it represents. But the right result came far too late. The mere pendency of these cases caused the film's DVD distributor to shy away from releasing the full film -- the version that includes the Imagine segment. So the film goes out on DVD on October 21 in censored form, illustrating the damage that even an unproved and unsupported infringement claim can do.
At the same time, the result here -- great but imperfect -- is a fantastic lesson in how we might start to solve the fair use dilemma. We launched the Documentary Film Program with Media Professional Insurance and Michael Donaldson to help solve a critical problem: fair use rights are expensive to use because they require lots of lawyer time. Media Pro took the visionary step of insuring fair use risks. We and Donaldson agreed to mediate these risks by vetting the fair use issues ahead of time. (We do it for free; Donaldson has to make a living.) Donaldson reviewed Expelled, and Media Pro insured it. When its producers got sued, we agreed to defend it pro bono, alongside the producers' regular counsel at the Locke Lord firm. Together we won, kept the cost to Media Pro minimal, and thus demonstrated that the fair use problem can be solved, in many (but perhaps not all) cases by teamwork like this.
I'm proud to have been a part of it.