Thursday, April 24, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed has been making a lot of news lately.  It was the number 10 movie over the weekend(admittedly in a weekend of lousy movies; No. 1 was The Forbidden Kingdom, a Jet Li/Jackie Chan film, by way of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3-as much as I like Jackie Chan, and occasionally enjoy Jet Li, this looked like crap to me).   They are getting enough recognition that the movie dominates the entire first page of Google results for "expelled."

Anyway, I've been following this movie for a while, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it.  We were supposed to review it for the podcast last friday, but Don had to go and take a vacation that weekend.  So we'll have something next week, Lord willing.  

However, I did want to post this interesting news bit, since it's not really related to anything we might be reviewing in the film.  The producers of the movie have been hit with two legal complaints regarding material being used without permission in the film.  

First, back on April 9 the producers of the wonderful "Inner Life of A Cell" video sent a letter to the producers of Expelled demanding that the animation segment in the film that depicts cellular functions be removed.  The charge was expanded to a lawsuit on April 14.  You can see a side by side comparison here, and while they do look very similar, I think that if the producers of Expelled can show that they simply based their animation on the same scientific data, then they should be in the clear.  However, cutting edge science does have lots of tricky legal issues, and some of it may itself be copyrighted, so this could be a sticky issue.   The response from the producers says simply that the claims are "unfounded" and does not elaborate.

The other one seems like it could actually get the producers in trouble.  Yoko Ono and the rest of John Lennon's heirs have filed a lawsuit to bar the filmmakers from continuing to use Lennon's song "Imagine" in the film.   The producers have countered with a statement on their website, which says:
"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. "

As a filmmaker, I have some experience with the fair use doctrine that the producers are trying to use to defend their use of the film.  I haven't seen the film yet, but I think that they have a very shakey case.  I'm no lawyer, but based on my readings of fair use law, it seems that it is permissalbe to use copyrighted material if you are making a statement about that material.

For example, in a parody film that I made a few months ago, I use a movie trailer and the audio from a television commercial to make a statement on the strange and ludicrious similarities between the two.  I initially considered using on the song from the commercial, since that song has been associated so strongly with the brand, but the problem with that is that by divorcing the song from the context it is merely a song.  I would still be making a statement about the movie trailer, but what, if any, statement would I be making about the song?  I might be able to defend it based upon the song's strong association with the commercials, but it would be a bit of a stretch.  

This is a problem that filmmakers often have involving music and fair use.  Often, filmmakers will legitimately use video material to make a commentary by, say, juxtaposing video of violence on the news with complaints of violence in video games.  This is legitimate, "fair use" of the material.  However, if they put a popular rock song over the video, that would be copyright violation, unless they were somehow making a statement about the song as well.  I'll have to pay attention in the film to how Lennon's music is used to see if it seems fair use to me.  
I do think that any film that markets and positions itself as Christian should be engaged in any legally questionable activities.  Christians should be careful in their exercise of freedom not to cause others to stumble.  Hopefully the producers of Expelled will be forthright and honest about these issues.  

For a brief overview of Fair Use, watch this excellent video:




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1 comment:

awakenpictures said...

I haven't seen the film yet but Worldnet daily which is pretty reputable posted this article about the movie and the lawsuit - it appears the producers used the song as commentary on the worldview of the song which is the same as the evolutionists. But it's hard to determine without really seeing the film. The article is here:
http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=62489

Thanks for posting that youtube video on fair use. It was very well done and ironic to use Disney to educate people about fair use since it is Steamboat Willy and Disney Lobbying congress that has caused the extension of copyright.

Making a documentary is very difficult these days because of these copyright situations. How do you comment on a society that is so filled with popular culture images and products and trademarks without treading on those copyrights? I read an article in New York Times where the filmmaker was trying to show people watching the Simpsons on television but had to insert his own film, because the owners of that show wanted to charge an outrageous fee. He felt like that was so fake but he had no choice.

What if the filmmaker wants to interview a guy wearing a Yankees hat or a jersey of his favorite team? Better have the guy take his hat off.

Then there's public domain items that are probably owned by a library and then you need to get permission from that library to use it -- so it's not really in the public domain - and many who post that image or writing on the internet demand that you need their permission to copy it...

It's definitely gotten way out of hand. It's the opposite extreme of people posting copyright stuff on their websites and making copies of copyright stuff without paying for it left and right these days.