The makers of Ben Stein’s “Expelled” movie, which opened last weekend at No. 10 nationwide and already has become one of the top 25 documentaries of all time, say the U.S. Constitution will be their defense against a lawsuit filed by Yoko Ono.
Ono and the sons of “Imagine” songwriter John Lennon, Sean Ono Lennon and Julian Lennon, are suing the documentary makers for using a brief clip of the popular song in the film.
Lennon’s 1971 song, which suggests an evolutionary utopia without heaven or hell, has been ranked No. 3 by Rolling Stone magazine on its list of the 500 greatest songs.
The action, brought in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, demands the filmmakers and their distributors remove “Imagine” from the film.
The makers of “Expelled,” however, contended today they are protected by the fair use doctrine, which allows presentation of brief segments of copyrighted material for commentary. They called the suit just another attack on freedom in the U.S., a focal point of the movie that contends opponents of the Darwinian theory of evolution are being censored.
“Expelled” covers the following key questions:
- Were we designed or are we simply products of random chance, mutations and evolution occurring without any plan over billions of years?
- Is the debate over origins settled?
- How should science deal with what appears to be evidence of design?
- What should be taught to children and college students about our origins?
- Is there any room for dissent from the evolutionary point of view?
- Is it appropriate for eminent scientists who depart from strict evolutionary dogma to be fired and blacklisted, as is occurring in academia today?
- Should government schools and other institutions be engaged in promoting the secular, materialistic worldview to the total exclusion of differing points of view?
- Is science so advanced and so certain that it should be exempt from the societal norms of open dialogue and free debate?
- Why is it simply inconceivable and unacceptable for some evolutionists to consider the possibility – no matter how remote – that our world might actually have a Creator?
The makers, as WND reported, previously went to court seeking a ruling after a company called XVIVO, LLC, alleged a piece of animation in the movie was an infringement on their work.
Filmmaker Premise Media filed a lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no copyright or other infringement, and the movie opened on schedule.
The new claim by Ono, however, opens up a new front “in the culture wars,” the company said.
“Yoko Ono and others have now filed lawsuits challenging the film’s use and critique of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine.’ One of the suits seeks to ban free speech through preliminary injunctive relief, which essentially means that they are trying to expel ‘Expelled’ as it is now being shown in theaters,” the company said in a statement released to WND.
“If you really listen to the lyrics of ‘Imagine’ then you realize that it represents everything that the Neo-Darwinists want. ‘Imagine there’s no Heaven … No hell below us … Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too…’ That’s exactly what the Darwinist establishment wants to do: get rid of religion,” said Walt Ruloff, CEO of Premise Media. “And that’s what we point out when we play less than 15 seconds of the song and show some of the lyrics on screen.”
Premise Media Chairman Logan Craft said, “The fair use doctrine is a well established principle that gives the public the right to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for the purposes of commentary and criticism. While some may not like what we have to say or how we say it, we have the free speech right to do so – just as other political and social commentators have been doing for years.”
Officials said the company did not ask for a license to use the song, because there was no obligation to do so.
“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. The brief clip – consisting of a mere 10 words – was used to contrast the messages in the documentary and was not used as an endorsement of ‘Expelled,'” the company said.
Ben Stein, himself, weighed in on the controversy.
“So Yoko Ono is suing over the brief constitutionally protected use of a song that wants us to ‘Imagine no possessions’?” he asked. “Maybe instead of wasting everyone’s time trying to silence a documentary she should give the song to the world for free. After all, ‘imagine all the people sharing all the world … You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the World can live as one.'”
The film opened on about half the screens of other top 10 features and scored an impressive $3.2 million in its opening weekend – more than all but eight other movies.
“Expelled” rolled out in 1,052 theaters, compared with 3,151 for the top grosser, “The Forbidden Kingdom.”
The movie, promoted heavily in conservative and Christian circles throughout the U.S., performed much better than the weekend’s other new current-affairs documentary, “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?” That movie, the second feature from “Super Size Me” filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, banked a mere $143,299 in 102 locations, for a $1,405 average. “Expelled” brought in nearly $3,000 per screen.