Here is a copy (below) of the June 2, 2008 decision of Judge Sidley Stein in the Southern District of New York, holding that a 15 second snippet of the Lennon song “Imagine,” within the feature length movie “Expelled“, is “fair use” under U.S. copyright law. In other words, the film makers did not infringe Yoko Ono’s copyright rights. “Expelled” is a documentary that deals with “intelligent design” (vs. Darwinism, Creationism, ect.), and is narrated by Ben Stein of Ferris Buehler fame (presumably no relation to Judge Stein, but bad luck of the draw for Yoko Ono nevertheless).
The “fair use” doctrine is an exception to the legal rights of U.S.copyright owners. It permits the use and publication, without permission, of parts of the work for purposes of “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching … scholarship, or research.” A large body of judge-made law has built up interpreting and applying this doctrine.
The court’s ruling on fair use is no surprise, and applies “black-letter” fair use law to undisputed facts. Any outcome other than a ruling in favor of fair use would have been a surprise. For more on fair use click here.