Oh No They Didn’t

You know that stupid Ben Stein movie Expelled, that argues in favor of “intelligent design” and chastises the sane for not allowing religious bullshit to be taught in science classes? Apparently, they used the John Lennon song Imagine in the film . . . without permission.

Yoko Ono, one of my all-time favorite feminists, isn’t having any of that shit. The issue came to her attention when bloggers started accusing her of selling out. And so she slapped the filmmakers with a lawsuit.

“Based on the fair use doctrine, news commentators and film documentarians regularly use material in the same way we do,” Premise Media said in a statement. “Unbiased viewers of the film will see that the ‘Imagine’ clip was used as part of a social commentary in the exercise of free speech and freedom of inquiry.”

Ono’s lawsuit claims the producers did not ask for permission either because they knew they couldn’t get it or because they did not want to pay for the rights. It objects to the way “Imagine” is listed in the film’s credits, saying it suggested to members of the news media and others that the song’s use had been approved.

“Internet ‘bloggers’ immediately began accusing Mrs. Lennon of ‘selling out’ by licensing the song to defendants,” says the complaint, filed this week.

The lawsuit calls “Imagine” Lennon’s signature song, saying it “has become closely associated with and is synonymous with John Lennon.”

The complaint, which also names other firms involved with the movie, asks the court to stop the filmmakers from distributing, selling and promoting the movie, and it seeks financial damages. It was filed on behalf of Ono, Lennon’s sons Sean and Julian, and EMI Blackwood Music Inc.

I don’t know enough about the fair use doctrine, and am not going to try to do enough research to pretend that I do, to know whether or not the use of the song applies in this case. But I do know a little bit about the Lennon estate, and I can tell you that Yoko Ono doesn’t fuck around. While I don’t agree with absolutely everything she has done, I do think that she is genuine about protecting Lennon’s work and generally does an amazing job. And I know that she never would have gotten herself or John involved in a movie like this. Though many have claimed that Ono exploits Lennon’s icon status, she rarely sells his music, usually only donating it for charitable purposes. If she has given the rights, you know about it; footage, photographs, and songs are always accompanied by a thank you to Yoko Ono and Lennon’s estate. She has his image and name copyrighted. And as Paul McCartney can tell you, she’s not afraid to sue anyone who she feels is denigrating Lennon’s legacy. So a person who uses Lennon’s music without getting permission first is a total moron just begging to be taken to court.

One could argue that she’s just giving these asshats more publicity, but seeing as how the movie already has a ton and is doing better than expected at the box office, I say go for it. I’m guessing that some will find reasons to talk shit about her over this. I also know that due to misogyny and racism, she is already one of the most reviled figures in musical history, and her very name is used as an insult against any uppity woman who feels that she is an equal to her boyfriend/husband’s friends. So I’m sure that she can take Ben Stein (and hopefully, Ben Stein’s Money).

[I honestly didn’t realize the pun in the title until well after I came up with it, as those words were my initial reaction to the story. Then, fascinated with the horrible lameness of my subconscious wit, I just couldn’t bring myself to change it. You may now commence the embarrassed shaking of your heads.]

0 thoughts on “Oh No They Didn’t

  1. ouyangdan

    good for her.

    i hope she wins and that craptastic movie shuts down.

    on a slightly off topic thought, the article you linked to listed her as “Mrs. Lennon”. is that accurate? i don’t remember ever hearing her referred to as anything but “Ono”. it might be a teeny tiny point, but it was curious.

  2. misskate

    Oooh, ooh, shweet, may Yoko triumph in court, and may this silly defense of ID bite dust as a result.

    Proponents of ID drive me nuts, and I find ID silly (who says faith and evolution are mutually exclusive?), so this bit of news is pure joy.

    Thanks, Cara.

    Oh, and more amusement at idiocy of the makers of the film and of those in their employ: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/expelled.php
    Just in case you didn’t catch that one. Pure gold.

  3. Paul

    What’s the deal with the hatred of Yoko – why is she blamed for the Beatles break up – the latest documentary i saw says the seeds of the break-up were there before she even came into the picture

  4. angryyoungwoman

    I took a library research class recently where we learned all about copyright and fair use. This is the definition of fair use: …“the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies … for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” Yeah, that movie definitely infringed on copyright. It wouldn’t be hard for Ono to win that suit with even the crappiest of lawyers–and I’m sure her lawyers are pretty blasted good.

  5. Cara Post author

    on a slightly off topic thought, the article you linked to listed her as “Mrs. Lennon”. is that accurate?

    I believe that she only uses Lennon for legal purposes pertaining to the estate. It doesn’t come up often, and usually it would be a newspaper using the name Lennon rather than her lawyers; she does seem to greatly prefer Ono. Her legal name (assuming that she has not changed it since his death, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t) is Yoko Ono Lennon — John’s legal name was John Ono Lennon (and he went through a decent amount of trouble to get it that way). But both of them seemed to always go by their birth surnames for artistic and day-to-day purposes.

    What’s the deal with the hatred of Yoko – why is she blamed for the Beatles break up – the latest documentary i saw says the seeds of the break-up were there before she even came into the picture

    Yeah, John would have left the Beatles anyway, and always said that Yoko just made him realize that he had a life outside of the band so that he had to guts to go through with it. George wanted to break up (and quit) first, I think a year or more before they actually did. Ringo quit briefly, too. John is always considered to be the band member who caused the split because he was the one who quit first when the breakup stuck. I don’t think that any of them but Paul was upset about the decision.

    As for why Yoko is to blame? Well I could go into a whole feminist dissertation on that (and have always meant to do one, and have also always felt that there just has to be one out there already). But there was a LOT of racism surrounding media coverage of John and Yoko’s relationship — the British press was super pissed that he left his blond British wife for the outspoken Japanese artist, and some of the caricatures of her from that time are jaw-dropping. Then there’s the misogyny, because Yoko was an outspoken feminist, and because John ended up becoming a part of the avante garde artist scene rather than Yoko becoming a Beatles groupie. Also, John’s work with Yoko started to influence his Beatles work (which just so happens to be some of my favorite, even if he also produced a lot of crap in the outpouring). The other Beatles were also resentful of her being in the studio, I think because they needed something/someone to blame (something that’s always overlooked is how Linda McCartney was there a hell of a lot, too), and the popular myth seems to have somehow erased the fact that John wanted her there. I also think that no one wants to speak badly of their heroes — why blame the Beatles themselves for acting like asses towards one another (which they did) and acknowledging that the breakup of the Greatest band in history was inevitable (which it was), when there’s a perfectly good feminist Asian woman to blame?

    Of course, I could just condense all of that down into one word: scapegoat.

  6. Roy

    It’s not surprising to me that Stein and his people don’t understand Fair Use. He (Stein) released an article on the AP not that long ago wherein he continually referred to evolution as “Darwinism” and suggested that a major failing of evolution was that it is associated with Marxism and that it doesn’t explain the origins of life (despite that, you know, the study of the origins of life aren’t Evolutionary Science, but, rather, Abiogenesis). For a man who is supposed to be very smart, he says and does some very stupid things.

  7. lepidopteryx

    You would think that with their intelligently designed brains, they would know not to fuck with Yoko Ono, especially where copyright issues are involved.
    Damn, but I love that woman.

  8. L. E. Hairstylist

    Go Yoko!

    The more I read about Yoko, the more I want to be her protege and learn from her awesome ways, artistically, politically, and just on a general level of coolness.

  9. Zoe

    I just stumbled on your blog on a link from somewhere else and felt compelled to chime in that YOKO ONO ROCKS!

    It rocks that she made a film of people’s bottoms.

    I saw her perform at a concert in a park in New York and she spent about ten minutes just doing these unaccompanied primal screams. She just howled into the microphone as hard as she could. At first the audience was stunned but then she got us joining in.

    She totally rocks.

    John Lennon had great taste.

  10. Cara Post author


    Well, actually, I’ve always wanted to meet Yoko Ono, but have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it will never happen. So seeing her perform would be a nice consolation.

    I have to laugh at John Lennon having great taste . . . because for the most part, particularly when it came to other people, he definitely did not! But even a broken clock’s right twice a day, and Yoko was one of those he got right.


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