Yoko Ono’s attempt to get an injunction against the film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” will shine a much needed light on current interpretations of the “fair use” provision of copyright law. Fair use is easily the haziest and least understood aspect of US copyright law.
Yoko Ono (and EMI and Capital Records) is seeking to have about 15 seconds of John Lennon’s recording of Imagine removed from the film. The injunction doesn’t ask for the film to be removed from theaters, it is asking for Lennon’s music to be removed from the film.
from the New York Times coverage…
Ono sued in state and federal court, accusing the movie’s producers of infringing on the song’s copyright by using parts without her permission.
The movie, which opened on U.S. screens in April and is set for release in Canada on June 6 and on DVD in October, presents a sympathetic view of intelligent design, the theory that the universe is too complex to be explained by evolution alone.
The filmmakers acknowledge they did not ask Ono for permission to use 15 to 20 seconds of the song. But they argue they are protected by the ”fair use” doctrine, which permits small parts of a copyrighted work to be used without an author’s permission under certain circumstances.
At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan this week, the filmmakers’ lawyer, Anthony T. Falzone, said that if the judge granted Ono’s request for an injunction against the film, it would ”muzzle” the filmmakers’ free-speech rights.
Falzone said the segment of the song in the film — ”nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too” — was central to the movie because ”it represents the most popular and persuasive embodiment of this viewpoint that the world is better off without religion.”
The film, he said, is ”asking if John Lennon was right and it’s concluding he was wrong.”
[Sidenote] Actually I don’t think John Lennon was saying in Imagine that the world would be better off without religion, I think he was saying that people get tied to their own particular beliefs and by doing so a lot of trouble is created in the world. Imagine is about breaking out of boundaries that are created by oneself.[end Sidenote]
The filmmakers’ attorney, Anthony Falzone is the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a lecturer in law at Stanford University. He believes very strongly that copyright law, as it stands now, is in major need of reform. You can read his brief in this case here.
I notice that Mr. Falzone is associated with the Center for Internet and Society at Standford Law School. This is not surprising. A large faction of those that work and think about the Internet (Wired, Fast Company) would like to broaden current interpretations of copyright law and especially fair use.
Getting to a contemporary interpretation of fair use is incredibly important because of the use or misuse of copyrighted work on the Internet. Part of YouTube’s main defense against Viacom will be arguing fair use (amongst other things like DMCA).
What the law says about fair use…
107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.