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NY judge: Film can use John Lennon song

Yoko Ono lost her legal bid Monday to stop the playing of a 15-second excerpt of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in a film challenging the theory of evolution.

Lennon’s widow had sued the makers of “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” saying they used the ex-Beatle’s anthem without her permission.

Ono, who had sought a preliminary injunction before the movie gets a wider release, said she would appeal. The other plaintiffs were Lennon’s sons, Sean and Julian.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein ruled that if the case went to court, the filmmakers would probably win under the fair use doctrine.

“That doctrine provides that the fair use of a copyrighted work for the purposes of criticism and commentary is not an infringement of copyright,” Stein wrote in his decision in Manhattan federal court.

Ono said in a statement, “It is a pity that this decision weakens the rights of all copyright owners.”

The defendants, Premise Media Corp. of Dallas, Rampant Films of Sherman Oaks, Calif., and Rocky Mountain Pictures Inc. of Salt Lake City, said they were pleased.

“There were important free-speech issues here – they were literally asking the judge to censor the film,” said their lawyer, Anthony T. Falzone.

The movie, which opened on U.S. screens in April and is set for release in Canada later this month 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.

At a hearing last month, Falzone had argued that 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.”

Ono had countered by saying, “One of the most basic rights I control by reviewing and choosing licenses is the right to say `no.’ The filmmakers simply looted me of the ability to do so.”

The film features Ben Stein (no relation to the judge), an actor and former speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford, defending intelligent design.

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