NEW YORK — Yoko Ono is suing the producers of a movie that challenges the concept of Darwinian evolution, saying they used the song "Imagine" without her permission and led the blogosphere to accuse her of "selling out."
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, John Lennon's widow accuses the producers of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" of suggesting to viewers that those who guard Lennon's legacy somehow authorized or sponsored the film.
The producers of the film, which features Ben Stein challenging Darwinian theories that prevail in academic circles and suggesting that life could have emerged through intelligent design, said they used only "a very small portion of the song."
"Based on the fair use doctrine, news commentators and film documentarians regularly use material in the same way we do," Premise Media said in a statement. "Unbiased viewers of the film will see that the 'Imagine' clip was used as part of a social commentary in the exercise of free speech and freedom of inquiry."
Ono's lawsuit claims the producers did not ask for permission either because they knew they couldn't get it or because they did not want to pay for the rights. The lawsuit objects to the way "Imagine" is listed in the film's credits, saying the song's use suggested to members of the news media and others that its use had been approved.
"Internet 'bloggers' immediately began accusing Mrs. Lennon of 'selling out' by licensing the song to defendants," says the complaint, filed this week.
The lawsuit calls "Imagine" Lennon's signature song, saying it "has become closely associated with and is synonymous with John Lennon."
The complaint, which also names other firms involved with the movie, asks the court to stop the filmmakers from distributing, selling and promoting the movie, and it seeks financial damages. It was filed on behalf of Ono, Lennon's sons Sean and Julian, and EMI Blackwood Music Inc.
"Expelled" earned the No. 10 spot at the box office this weekend, bringing in nearly $3 million in its first weekend in wide release. Stein, an actor, quiz show host and former speech writer for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, has been visiting some state capitals to screen the movie for lawmakers.