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John Lennon Song Snippet Declared Fair Use in 'Expelled'

By Sandra Ruch

An exciting update in the issue of fair use of music in documentaries has just come in from former IDA Board President and entertainment attorney Michael C. Donaldson, Esq. (Donaldson & Hart), who served on the Legal Advisory Board for the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.
On Monday, June 2, 2008 -- for the first time -- a court declared that including a snippet from the master recording of a piece of music in a documentary could be considered fair use. Until today, there were those who thought that could never happen. But I was happy to extend a written opinion that 15 seconds of John Lennon's recording of his song "Imagine," the master and the composition, in the documentary Expelled would fall within the fair use doctrine. Yoko Ono sued. The court issued a 23 page opinion explaining why the use was a fair use and declaring, by way of conclusion, that she had not even shown a slim chance of success in her case. The court concluded by stating, "Because defendants are likely to prevail on their fair use defense, plaintiffs have failed to show, on the basis of the record developed to date, a clear likelihood of success or even a simple likelihood of success on the merits of their copyright infringement claim."
IDA could not be more pleased with the result or with the court's opinion.

Download a pdf file of the court's opinion here.