A federal judge recently had to weigh conflicting claims regarding the right to use music that is in the public domain versus the rights of musicians to ownership of that music.
In this case, it was Yoko Ono, the widow of a deceased musician, John Lennon, who sued the maker of a video commentary titled "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."
Ono claimed that the use of a 15-second excerpt of the song "Imagine" in the DVD violates copyright laws. She sought an injunction against the consortium of film companies producing the DVD.
The film companies' legal counsel argued that the use of the excerpt in a non-fiction work challenging the philosophy expressed in John Lennon's song falls within the fair use doctrine of using excerpts of music, excerpts of film and quotes from creative writing.
It is clear that using copyrighted work, even a short excerpt, in a fictional film should require permission from the copyright owner and potentially royalties negotiated with the copyright owner
It is also clear that an excerpt that is part of a newscast, for example an excerpt from a Bo Diddley tune that is played in a news report on the blues and rock legend's recent death would fall within the fair use doctrine regarding creative works.
Although the situation decided recently was not as clear cut as those two examples, we believe the federal court made the right decision in this case.