Home » Expelled » Is “Imagine” Even Copyrightable?

Is “Imagine” Even Copyrightable?

Yoko Ono, as many readers of this blog by now know, is suing the producers of EXPELLED for using a brief clip of John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” One of the stanzas of the song reads:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

Is it possible to copyright a song that disavows possessions (copyright being a form of possession)? Once Ono realizes the self-referential incoherence of her suit, I trust she’ll drop it.

[[Addendum: Then again, Elvis Costello may be closer to the truth: "Was it a millionaire who said 'imagine no possessions'?" -- go here]]

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45 Responses to Is “Imagine” Even Copyrightable?

  1. 1

    Ben Stein said,

    “So Yoko Ono is suing over the brief Constitutionally protected use of a song that wants us to ‘Imagine no possessions’ ?”

    Yes, it’s ironic, isn’t it? It’s like mendicant monks suing over unauthorized use of Gregorian chants.

    I am proposing that John Lennon and Beatles products be boycotted until Yoko Ono drops her nuisance suit — see
    http://im-from-missouri.blogsp.....atles.html

  2. 2

    The song is a vow of poverty. Yoko Ono should lose all of John Lennon’s copyrights.

  3. LOL. This shows you the utter hypocrisy of the left.

  4. Imagine no possessions…

    NOW PAY ME!

  5. Hi Larry,
    As somebody who thinks that they are a laywer I’m surprised that you advocate ignoring copyright. Do you mind If I take your blog and republish it under my own name? Will that be OK with you?

  6. Dr Dembski

    Once Ono realizes the self-referential incoherence of her suit, I trust she’ll drop it.

    I’m afraid this is likely to be one of your few predicitons that fails to happen. Another lawsuit has apparently been launched, this time by the labels themselves.

    For more details see here
    http://onthecoversongs.blogspo.....ction.html

  7. 7

    Megan.Alavi said,

    As somebody who thinks that they are a laywer I’m surprised that you advocate ignoring copyright.

    And you are advocating ignoring the principle of fair use.

    Do you mind If I take your blog and republish it under my own name?

    Do you really think that my blog is that good? I’m flattered.

    Nothing on my blog is copyrighted and so any or all of it may be republished under another name. I would appreciate attribution where appropriate, though — that’s only fair.

    Another lawsuit has apparently been launched, this time by the labels themselves.

    Good — we’ll boycott the labels too. That’s even better.

    Yoko Ono and the labels may get more than they bargained for — the Fair Use Project of the Center for Internet & Society at Stanford Law School has “announced that it will agree to provide pro bono legal representation to certain filmmakers who comply with the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use published by the Center for Social Media at American University.” Details are in my following blog post –
    http://im-from-missouri.blogsp.....-over.html

  8. 8

    Here is the story as well as I can make it out –

    Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s sons, and the song’s publisher, EMI Blackwood, filed a joint suit in a federal district court — see
    http://onthecoversongs.blogspo.....laint.html

    Ironically, the case was assigned to a judge named Stein.

    Apparently because of a technicality concerning the fact that this is a pre-1972 song, the record label companies EMI Records (possibly related to the publisher EMI Blackwood) and Capitol Records filed a separate joint suit in a state court — see
    http://onthecoversongs.blogspo.....ction.html

  9. ‘Imagine no possessions’ — Now hand over yours.

    It does seem like fair use to my layman legal mind. If they remove the tune, could they insert subtitles?

  10. I don’t know what Yoko expects someone to do in this case. Is the song legally protected from criticism, or can it only be criticized in the absence of its content?

    But perhaps this is another brilliant publicity joint venture by Rocky Mountain and its enemies.

  11. Maybe they’re just trying to lawyer the Expelled people up as punishment for making John Lennon look like a naive fool who promulgated destructive ideas.

    I wonder if her lawyers are dreamers or $500/hr realists?

  12. Denyse O’Leary on another UD thread:

    Everyone in the industry knows that one can’t just use Lennon’s music, same as one can’t just photoshop Disney’s Mickey Mouse as a ‘toon narrator.

  13. Good one, russ.

    More free PR, Yoko!

  14. 14
    sagebrush gardener

    I predict that after much rattling of legal sabers, this will be settled out of court for an undisclosed sum (like $1.00). Both sides will proclaim victory and life will go on. Taking it to court is a double-edged sword. Yoko might win, but there is a reasonable chance that she could lose, which would set a precedent that could open the floodgates. She and the labels have more to lose than they have to win. Better to keep a potential threat hanging over people’s heads than to go to court and risk losing.

  15. 15

    Maybe that clever Ben Stein planned this whole thing from the beginning — maybe he even bribed Yoko and the music companies to sue him. Maybe he also bribed XVIVO, the video producer, to threaten him with a copyright suit — after all, there is no evidence that XVIVO is even a part owner of the video’s copyright (Harvard is an owner of the copyright and may be the sole owner).

  16. Yoko is tangled up in yet another lawsuit.

    “World Wide Video has filed a suit in the District Court in Boston against Ono for copyright infringement. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 30.”

    See here
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art.....les123.xml

    “Yoko Ono is attempting to block the release of footage which shows Beatle John Lennon smoking pot, writing songs and discussing putting the hallucinogenic drug LSD in President Richard Nixon’s tea.”

  17. Imagine there’s no countries
    And no religion too

    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Folks, ID, or any other Judeo-Christian derivative thereof, is not part of the emerging global uni-government plan.

    John Rockefeller knows this. Harvard knows this. And Yoko Ono knows this too.

  18. Yeah it is possible, it is just not intellectually consistent. (Now, whether sampling such a short clip is infringement is a different question.)

    Meanwhile, Gore Used Fictional Video to Illustrate ‘Inconvenient Truth’…but since all involved parties are ideologically aligned, we probably won’t hear much more about this from the left.

  19. I think Yoko will win or only settle for a considerable sum.

    evomaterialist, I just reprinted part of your blog comment. In your world, is it just as obvious I (or the people selling ads on this site) have violated your copyright?

  20. Any legal experts here as well as people with an inside track to what Expelled’s producers are thinking? Is it fair to say that any settlement that would keep this from coming to trial would require moneys being pair to Yoko for permission to use the clip? Would Yoko, to keep her radical friends happy refuse any such settlement out of hand? Would the Expelled producers refuse to remove the clip apart from a court order?

    Let’s say it goes to trial and the decision goes against Expelled. Do the producers of Expelled appeal it? Is the aim to keep this in the courts and press as long as possible to bring as much publicity to the documentary as possible?

  21. You an open a brothel in Nye County Nevada and use the profits to fund abstinence education. It can happen.

  22. Some links on the Fair Use Doctrine:

    Section 107 of the Copyright Act 3 sets forth the four fair use factors which should be assessed in each instance, based on the particular facts of a given case, to determine whether a use is a “fair use”:
    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 CONFERENCE ON FAIR USE 1996

    Applying this to Documentaries, see:
    DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS’ STATEMENT OF BEST PRACTICES IN FAIR USE November 18, 2005

    Best Practices in Fair Use

    Reflective of the US’s litigious culture is:
    Insurance for documentary ‘fair use’

    Julie Hilden discusses such issues issues in: Matt Drudge Versus “K Street”:
    Does the Internet Maverick Have a Claim Against the Boundary-Testing Show?

  23. 23

    Darn — my comments are not going through. I am trying again.

    Here are some new names for Yoko: “Loco Yoko Oh-No” and “Loco Yoko No-No.” The latter sounds better when spoken.

    There once was a lady named Yoko,
    who had a mind that was quite loco.
    When she tried to sue,
    she later did rue,
    ’cause the lawyers she faced were pro bono.

  24. Yes it is, and it was a stupid idea to use it.

    Unfortunately, DRM will only budge enough to allow librarians and teachers to make copies of materials, commercial use will not ever be allowed.

    I wish people would be realistic about things like this.
    They should have just quoted the lyrics… or had the words on screen.

  25. 25
    sagebrush gardener

    Will someone please rescue my comments from the spam filter? Thank you.

  26. DLH, Thanks for the links. I found “best practices in Fair Use” to be very helpful. Based upon this document, I think that Expelled was clearly within their rights.

  27. If we want to see Expelled as originally envisioned do it now.

  28. Hey, a post got through.

  29. 29

    The Strawberry Fields Memorial in Central Park has the song’s name “Imagine” at the center. The Strawberry Fields is a 2-1/2 acre Central Park section that was donated by the city. There is a bronze plaque that lists the 121 countries endorsing Strawberry Fields as a Garden of Peace. See –

    http://www.centralparknyc.org/.....erryfields

    I propose that unless Yoko places the song “Imagine” in the public domain, then NYC should (1)bulldoze and rename the Strawberry Fields section and (2) give back to Yoko the money — adjusted for inflation — that she donated for Strawberry Fields.

    Enough is enough.

  30. This thread sounds familiar ;)

  31. 31

    See my Comment #29.

    Central Park’s Strawberry Fields section is on land donated by the city. This section of the park gives the songs “Imagine,” “Strawberry Fields,” and the Beatles free advertising of incalculable value. So maybe Yoko should give back a little by allowing a movie (for-profit or not) to use about 15 seconds and 10 words of “Imagine” for free.

  32. You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Yes, the only problem is that the new world order will have no room for Christianity. And in John Lennon’s mind there was no doubt about that.

    According to beatlesagain.com:

    On March 4, 1966, this quote of John’s was printed in an interview by reporter Maureen Cleave in the London Evening Standard:

    “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

    And Lennon was not the only one!

  33. 33

    Some people are saying that the movie’s use of the song would be fair use if the movie verbally commented on the significance of the song’s words in relation to the accompanying scenes. But I think that the movie’s producers wanted the viewers to decide that significance for themselves — if the movie gave a reason for including the song, the effect would be spoiled.

  34. It’s funny, but the Stones were always considered the bad boys, yet they were the ones who sang:

    Sometimes you ain’t got nobody and you want somebody to love.

    Then you don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus,

    You just want to see His face.

  35. “Is it possible to copyright a song that disavows possessions (copyright being a form of possession)?”

    This one is dead easy – the answer is “yes”. Not only is it possible, but if such a song were written today then it would accrue copyright protection automatically as soon as it was written.

  36. tribune7,

    There is a lot of truth in irony. Sometimes unabashed bad boys are at times more spiritual because they were more honest in the first place. Jesus expresses a wish that people were either “hot or cold”. I think it coordinates with that irony.

  37. 37

    Clarence said (#35) –

    “Is it possible to copyright a song that disavows possessions (copyright being a form of possession)?”

    This one is dead easy – the answer is “yes”. Not only is it possible, but if such a song were written today then it would accrue copyright protection automatically as soon as it was written.

    My blog has a new legal analysis that shows that “Imagine” is not copyrightable:

    http://im-from-missouri.blogsp.....table.html

  38. 38

    Let’s face it — if this is not fair use, then there is no such thing as fair use of a copyrighted song in a commercial production where the purpose is other than verbal commentary about the song.

  39. Larry Fafarman (37):

    “My blog has a new legal analysis that shows that “Imagine” is not copyrightable:”

    Yes, I had a look at your blog, and I’m afraid your “analysis” simply isn’t correct. When the Fair Use provisions refer to the nature of the work, they don’t mean the message in the work whatsoever – it refers to the type of work. For example, whether the work itself is a work of fiction or non-fiction (sometimes use of the latter is considered non-copyright material for public interest reasons, such as the Zapruder film), and facts and ideas, which should not be restrcted by copyright. Have a look here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

    William Dembski (and you) are barking up the wrong tree completely. I suggest you drop this one.

  40. Larry Fafarman (38):

    “Let’s face it — if this is not fair use, then there is no such thing as fair use of a copyrighted song in a commercial production where the purpose is other than verbal commentary about the song.”

    You may well be right, but why should that surprise you? The whole point of copyright is that the creator can control copying of his work. Generally this is considered a good thing – if people’s work is just ripped off then they either stop creating new works or when they do they just keep them secret, neither of which benefits society or the economy.

    Controlling copyright allows the owner to licence others to use it if the owner so chooses, in order to get a share of the income from those who use their work and commercially exploit it. Seems fair enough to me. I don’t understand why you have a problem with it.

  41. 41

    Clarence said,

    When the Fair Use provisions refer to the nature of the work, they don’t mean the message in the work whatsoever — it refers to the type of work.

    The law does not define what is meant by “nature” of the work — it can mean anything, including the message(s) in the work.

    I suggest you drop this one.

    When hell freezes over.

    if people’s work is just ripped off then they either stop creating new works or when they do they just keep them secret

    And I suppose that allowing fair use of about 15 seconds and 10 words of “Imagine” in the movie “Expelled” is going to discourage songwriters and musicians from composing and performing.

    Seems fair enough to me. I don’t understand why you have a problem with it.

    One of my problems is that Loco Yoko Oh-No-No gets a fortune in free advertising from Central Park’s Strawberry Fields section on land donated by the city but is too chintzy to give away a few seconds and a few words of “Imagine” as fair use. NYC never gave “Expelled” a dime’s worth of free advertising. On the contrary, the New York Times panned the movie.

  42. 42

    Here is a new stanza for “Imagine” –

    Imagine there are no copyrights,
    it isn’t hard to do.
    Nothing to cause court fights,
    no reason for to sue.
    Imagine all the people
    staying out of court

  43. Larry Fafarman (41):

    “The law does not define what is meant by “nature” of the work — it can mean anything, including the message(s) in the work.”

    None of the case law I’ve seen on nature of the work addresses the message in a work – it’s all been about whether it is fact or fiction etc.

    “When hell freezes over.”

    Hey, it’s your life. I was just trying to be helpful and point out you are wasting your time. But it’s no skin off my nose.

    “And I suppose that allowing fair use of about 15 seconds and 10 words of “Imagine” in the movie “Expelled” is going to discourage songwriters and musicians from composing and performing.”

    Probably not. That’s because they will be able to rely on the law when asserting their rights.

    “One of my problems is that Loco Yoko Oh-No-No gets a fortune in free advertising from Central Park’s Strawberry Fields section on land donated by the city but is too chintzy to give away a few seconds and a few words of “Imagine” as fair use. NYC never gave “Expelled” a dime’s worth of free advertising. On the contrary, the New York Times panned the movie.”

    Okay. Well, we all have our problems to bear….

  44. 44

    Clarence (#43):

    None of the case law I’ve seen on nature of the work addresses the message in a work – it’s all been about whether it is fact or fiction etc.

    What that means is that no court has ever ruled that a work’s message cannot be considered to be part of the work’s nature. And I presume that no court will ever make such a ruling.

    I was just trying to be helpful and point out you are wasting your time.

    You’re trying and I’m succeeding.

    “And I suppose that allowing fair use of about 15 seconds and 10 words of “Imagine” in the movie “Expelled” is going to discourage songwriters and musicians from composing and performing.”

    Probably not.

    Thank you for conceding my point.

    Okay. Well, we all have our problems to bear….

    It’s not my personal problem — it’s a problem with that greedy tightfisted ungrateful hypocritical twit, Loco Bozo Oh-No-No, who accepts a fortune in free advertising from NYC but is too chintzy to give away a few seconds of a song as fair use.

  45. Any Updates? What about freedom of the press? I just consider this a highlight or synopsis. Even the tv guide does that.

    How come people can use music on America most talented without out it being copyrighted? Except for the strings they did their own work. Most of the other songs were possible copyrighted. Either Nbc got the permission to use the songs or the performers did.

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