With the revelation that the producers of Expelled did not obtain permission to use a short segment of John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, the premiere of this movie appears to be a train wreck in progress. Given that they reportedly used the snippet about “imagine there’s no religion” with various nasty visual content from Communist China, it seems unlikely that they will manage to work out a deal with Ono to license the song at this point. Premise Media (PM) is arguing that the snippet meets the requirements for a “fair use” exclusion, or that they have an “educational” movie, or whatever in order to set aside the issue.
Let’s assume that Expelled does actually open tomorrow at a thousand theaters across the country. (We’ll set aside the very real possibility that Ono will seek an injunction against PM.) Given that the Wall Street Journal has raised the issue that the rights clearance procedure at PM is at the least sloppy if not completely incompetent, there will be lots of observers looking for other potential copyright infringement for photos, music, and video clips. Will it stand up to that sort of scrutiny? Will theater owners stand firm with PM as accessories to infringement as further claims are made? I think that we are likely to have an interesting weekend, and not just like the IDC cheerleaders were hoping for, either.