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Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project to Represent Filmmakers in Lawsuit Brought by Yoko Ono

Publication Date: 
May 01, 2008
Source: 
Stanford Law School

STANFORD, Calif., May 1 , 2008—The Fair Use Project of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society today announced that it is signing on to defend Premise Media’s right to use a clip of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in its documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” for the purposes of commentary and criticism.

The film, released in the United States on April 18, 2008, is about alleged discrimination against people who support alternative theories of evolution such as intelligent design. The song is played for roughly 15 seconds to illustrate and criticize the ideas suggested in it—that the world might be a better place without religion.

Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono Lennon and sons Sean and Julian, along with EMI Blackwood Music, filed suit on April 22, 2008 claiming that Premise Media’s unauthorized use of “Imagine” violates copyright and trademark law. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Premise Media, C&S Production LP, Premise Media Distribution LP, and Rocky Mountain Pictures misappropriated the composition in violation of the Copyright Act, the Lanham Act, and New York state law. On the same date, EMI Records Ltd. and Capitol Records LLC filed suit against the same defendants in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, alleging violation of their rights in the sound recording under New York state law.

Premise Media contends it has the right to use the song under the fair use doctrine, which among other things permits the use of copyrighted material for the purpose of comment, criticism, and discussion.

“The right to quote from copyrighted works in order to criticize them and discuss the views they may represent lies at the heart of the fair use doctrine,” said Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project. “These rights are under attack here, and we plan to defend them.”

Falzone will serve as counsel on the case along with Stanford Law colleagues Julie A. Ahrens and Brandy Karl. The Stanford team will be joined by Roy Hardin and April Terry, partners at the Dallas office of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP.

The producers of “Expelled” spent two years interviewing scores of scientists, doctors, philosophers, and public leaders, including University of Minnesota biology professor P.Z. Myers, who does not support alternative theories of evolution. The clip of “Imagine,” which is audible for approximately 15 seconds, is used in a segment of the documentary in which the film’s narrator and author Ben Stein comments on statements made by Myers and others about the place of religion. In the documentary Stein says: “Dr. Myers would like you to think that he’s being original but he’s merely lifting a page out of John Lennon’s songbook.” This is followed by an audio clip of Lennon’s song “Imagine,” specifically, the lyrics “Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too.”

“We included the ‘Imagine’ clip not only to illuminate Ben Stein’s commentary but to criticize the ideas expressed in the song,” says Logan Craft, chairman and executive producer of Premise Media.

“Yoko Ono and the other plaintiffs are trying to redefine the Constitution and the free speech protection it affords,” Craft continued. “Our movie is about freedom—the freedom to discuss alternative views of how life began on our planet, the freedom to ask reasonable questions about the adequacy of Darwin’s theory, and the freedom to challenge an entrenched establishment. Now we find that we also have to fight for our free speech rights.”

The plaintiffs in both cases have filed motions asking the court to issue a nationwide injunction against showing the film in its present form. These motions are likely to be heard in the next few weeks.

About the Fair Use Project

The Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s Fair Use Project (“the FUP”) was founded in 2006. Its purpose is to provide legal support to a range of projects designed to clarify, and extend, the boundaries of “fair use” in order to enhance creative freedom. The FUP represents filmmakers, musicians, artists, writers, scholars, and other content creators in a range of disputes that raise important questions concerning fair use and the limits of intellectual property rights. In doing so, it relies on a network of talented lawyers within the Center for Internet and Society, as well as attorneys in law firms and public interest organizations that are dedicated to advancing the mission of the FUP.

About Anthony Falzone

Anthony Falzone is executive director of Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project. He is an intellectual property litigator who has represented technology and media clients in a wide array of intellectual property disputes including copyright, trademark, rights of publicity, and patent matters. He is also a lecturer in law at Stanford Law School, teaching Fair Use in Film. Prior to joining Stanford Law School, he was a partner in the San Francisco office of Bingham McCutchen LLP.

About Julie A. Ahrens

Julie A. Ahrens is associate director of Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project, where she represents writers, filmmakers, musicians, and others who rely on fair use in creating their art, documentaries, scholarship, critiques, or comments. Before joining Stanford, Julie was a litigation attorney in the San Francisco office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

About Brandy Karl

Brandy Karl joined Stanford Law School in 2007 as a residential fellow at the Center for Internet & Society, where her work includes public interest litigation and other projects related to technology and intellectual property regulation. Prior to joining the Center, Karl practiced copyright and trademark law in Boston as principal of her own firm.

About the Center for Internet and Society

Founded by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig in 2001, the Center for Internet and Society is a public interest technology law and policy program at Stanford Law School which engages students, academics, technologists and policy makers in exploring the interactions between technology, law, and society.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching.

About Premise Media

Premise Media Corporation develops, finances, and produces independent films, books, and DVDs for the domestic and international marketplace, producing world-class media that stirs the heart and inspires the mind to truth, purpose, and hope.

About Roy Hardin

Roy Hardin, partner at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, has over thirty years of experience trying patent cases in diverse fields. In recent years, he has presented claim interpretation arguments in the Tyler, Marshall and Texarkana divisions of the Eastern District of Texas. Hardin also has utilized alternate dispute resolutions, including mini-trials and arbitration. He has tried bench and jury patent infringement cases across the country and has presented a number of important oral arguments to the Federal Circuit.

About April Terry

April Terry, partner at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, focuses on commercial litigation matters, both general and complex. Named a “Texas Rising Star/Super Lawyer” in Texas Monthly magazine, Terry represents major Fortune 500 companies in complex litigation and arbitration matters, including fiduciary relations claims, corporate governance issues, director and officer liability claims, investor claims, indemnity disputes, and disputes regarding failed software implementations.

About Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP

Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP is a full-service, national law firm of more than 700 attorneys with offices in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, London, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Sacramento and Washington, D.C. With a vast geographic scope, and a national reputation in complex litigation, regulatory and transactional work, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell is focused on achieving client success as a team. Among LLB&L's many strong practice areas are appellate, capital markets, corporate, class action litigation, employee benefits, energy, environmental, financial services, health care, insurance and reinsurance industries, intellectual property, labor and employment, public law, real estate, REIT, tax and technology.

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EDITORIAL CONTACT

Amy Poftak
Assistant Director of Communications
Stanford Law School
650.725.7516
poftak@law.stanford.edu