This is actually somewhat interesting, and I’m not going to reject all of it out of hand. The Fair Use Project of Stanford Law School is going to defend the use of Lennon’s song “Imagine” in the movie Expelled.
On the one hand, they are using a very short clip — and I am not a fan of the kind of draconian enforcement of every second of a song that the music industry seems to favor. There are reasonable grounds for fair use of short clips of music … the question is whether this is one of those cases.
On the other hand, I think Premise is horribly dishonest, and this press release is personally obnoxious to me (which is not actionable, of course … it merely diminishes the Fair Use Project’s credibility when they so readily buy into some of the phoniness Premise is pushing.)
The producers of “Expelled” spent two years interviewing scores of scientists, doctors, philosophers, and public leaders, including University of Minnesota biology professor P.Z. Myers, who does not support alternative theories of evolution. The clip of “Imagine,” which is audible for approximately 15 seconds, is used in a segment of the documentary in which the film’s narrator and author Ben Stein comments on statements made by Myers and others about the place of religion. In the documentary Stein says: “Dr. Myers would like you to think that he’s being original but he’s merely lifting a page out of John Lennon’s songbook.” This is followed by an audio clip of Lennon’s song “Imagine,” specifically, the lyrics “Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too.”
“We included the ‘Imagine’ clip not only to illuminate Ben Stein’s commentary but to criticize the ideas expressed in the song,” says Logan Craft, chairman and executive producer of Premise Media.
There’s a lot to object to there.
It is not true that I do not support alternative theories of evolution. I do. However, I expect alternatives to be backed up by evidence; I reject the fact-free, useless nonsense of Intelligent Design, which is not the same as being close-minded, as this P.R. implies.
Stein’s commentary is ludicrous. I did not claim originality, so accusing me of doing so is false. Lennon’s song is also not relevant to what I said; I had just said that science erodes religious belief, and that the atheist goal is not the elimination of religion, but a reduction of its impact in secular functions, like government (my infamous comment about ‘knitting’). Imagine says nothing about science, or knitting for that matter. The song actually doesn’t follow from what I was saying.
The claim that they were commenting on the ideas in the song is false. This movie was not about how artists are excluding creationists from their discipline, but about scientists. The song doesn’t discuss science or creationism or the academy, any of the themes of the movie. It’s just a pretty and extremely recognizable popular melody; they are using it as background music to a series of images that they want to use to generate a negative emotional response to my argument. They could have used any music and still made the same point.
So, really, what I detest is that, as usual, Premise Media is lying. Their rationalizations are completely bogus.
If they’d been more honest, though, and were simply arguing that, hey, a quick 15 second clip of a popular song ought to be acceptable use, I’d be sympathetic (now maybe an artist with a more personal appreciation of the ownership of an artistic creation would differ…), but they just don’t seem to be able to do that. They’ve got a compulsion to lie and try to claim that they were directly addressing John Lennon’s work, which they most clearly were not doing.
Of course, if they were capable of honesty, their movie wouldn’t exist.