Lennon v. Premise Media

Yoko Ono and EMI sued a documentary filmmaker for using a short clip from the John Lennon song “Imagine” as part of a critique of the lyrics of the song.  We defended the filmmaker and successfully argued that the use of the copyrighted song was fair use.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a controversial documentary about a contentious issue: whether proponents of intelligent design are being unfairly silenced in academia and beyond.  Right or wrong, good or bad, it’s a film that explores important issues of free speech, faith and science.  In exploring theses issues, the film uses a fifteen-second clip from the John Lennon song “Imagine” and critiques what it suggests is the overtly anti-religious message embodied in the song, both explicitly and implicitly, by suggesting the absence of religion from society can have terrible social consequences.  Yoko Ono Lennon sued the film’s producers in federal court.  EMI, the record label that asserts ownership in the recording of song also sued the producers in state court.  Both sought an immediate injunction forcing the removal of “Imagine” from the film.  The FUP defended the producers in both actions.  We accepted this case because the right to quote from copyrighted works in order to criticize them and discuss the views they represent lies at the heart of the fair use doctrine.  In a comprehensive victory for fair use and free speech, we defeated the attempt to prevent distribution of our client’s film.