More Copyright Oddities: Why Does Yoko Ono Get To Hold Copyright On Lennon Videos Others Purchased

from the something's-missing dept

Michael Scott points us to a story about a copyright battle involving Yoko Ono and some video footage of John Lennon. I can only assume that the AP report summarizing the case is leaving out some important details, because otherwise the ruling doesn't make much sense. From the article, the timeline of events appears to be:
  • 10 hours of video footage of John Lennon were shot at his estate in 1970 (when the Beatles were still together) by Anthony Cox (Yoko Ono's ex-husband, prior to her marriage to Lennon).
  • In 2000, Cox sold the footage to World Wide Video for $125,000. Since he shot the video, it seems reasonable to assume the copyright did, in fact, belong with him -- unless there's some evidence of a work for hire agreement somewhere (not mentioned in the article). Thus, it would seem the sale would be legit.
  • In 2001, a third party, Anthony Pagola, claimed to have copies of the same videos, and demanded that World Wide Video let him sell them. WWV claims that Pagola got the tapes from an ex-employee of WWV who stole them.
  • In 2002, Pagola sold the videos and "the copyright" to Yoko Ono for $300,000. The owners of WWV claim that their signatures were forged on the sale sheet by Pagola
  • In the intervening years, WWV created a documentary out of the footage, which it planned to release in 2008 until Ono sued them.
  • WWV countersued, claiming that Ono was violating its copyright
  • Ono asked the judge to declare the copyright was hers... and the judge agreed.
Assuming all of this is true, it's hard to see how Ono has a valid claim to the copyright, but the courts have ruled in her favor. The Boston Globe article has a bit more info, though it's still troubling. Apparently, the judge's reasoning was that WWV failed to take action to "reclaim the copyright" in the intervening years, even though it had "plenty of warnings" that Ono believed she had purchased the rights.

This seems incredibly backwards, with a touch of copyfraud thrown in for good measure. Why should WWV need to "reclaim" the copyright on something when they simply believed they held the copyright all along. Since, once again, copyright is not tangible property, it makes perfect sense that WWV would believe it still held the copyright in question, even if Ono thought she had purchased it. The fact that they didn't make a proactive effort to "reclaim" what they thought they already had doesn't seem to be a reason for Ono to now keep the copyright. It seems like evidence that WWV believed it properly held the copyright all along.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Lucretious, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 10:53am

    seems like Yoko Ono outspent WWV in terms of quality of legal services.

     

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  2.  
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    Ryan, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:13am

    This seems...awful. WWV had its tapes stolen and resold to Ono, who believed she was receiving the copyright but did not. WWV sues the employee, who settles. Seven years later, Ono attempts to enforce the copyright she believes she has on WWV and WWV strikes back. The judge gives the copyright to Ono because WWV never asserted to Ono that she didn't have the copyright...even though she never actually had it!

    WWV had the copyright and didn't act, Ono didn't have the copyright and was ignorant. So Ono suddenly has the copyright because she was misinformed?

     

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  3.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:18am

    Re:

    "WWV had the copyright and didn't act, Ono didn't have the copyright and was ignorant. So Ono suddenly has the copyright because she was misinformed?"

    Yes, but good news! There is an easy way to fix this!

    All WWV now has to do is act like it has the copyright and wait for a length of time in which Ono doesn't actively try to reclaim what wasn't hers but was given to her because she was mistaken because she bought it from somebody who didn't have it (deep breath)...and BAM!, by this judge's decision, it's their's again.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:28am

    She did again

    Ono stikes again and ruins everything that she touches. The footage will surely be lost forever.

     

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  5.  
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    RD, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:30am

    Yes!

    Fan-fucking-tastic!! We now have an iron-clad, judical-approved method of reassigning copyright! Simply claim copyright on something someone else owns, wait a few years and when they dont "reclaim" their copyright, YOU OWN IT!!

    Maybe now we can get works back into the public domain where they should have been decades ago, after having been stolen by back-room deals to extend copyright out from under the original public agreements.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:35am

    so does that mean we can sue the RIAA for copyright ownership we thought we had when we purchased the CDs?

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:37am

    This is precisely what attorneys are worried about when they say you must sue or you risk losing your rights. Having not read the actual opinion, it's safe to say that if WWV knew in 2001 that Ono thought she bought the copyright, and they did nothing for 7 years, than too bad for them.

     

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  8.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:51am

    Yoko Ono is a copyright troll. The wonderful Japanese pop band Puffy AmiYumi had to get permission from Yoko when they used a picture of themselves laying in bed on a cover of their CD because it was similar to Yoko and Lennon's "sleep-in" protest.

    First, there simply now way a protest could be copyrighted in such a way that someone else could not perform a similar protest. "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to stop this anti-war protest. I have copyright on that."

    Second, I find it hard to believe that Yoko owns the exclusive right of all pictures of people laying in bed. That's simply fricken asinine.

    My guess is that the judge was tired of bat-shit-crazy Yoko being in her courtroom so he ruled in her favor just to get rid of her.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:53am

    "10 hours of video footage of John Lennon were shot at his estate in 1970 (when the Beatles were still together) by Anthony Cox (Yoko Ono's ex-husband, prior to her marriage to Lennon"

    Without knowing the fact of what happened one should question:
    Who shot the video?
    How did Anthony Cox get the video?
    and
    Did Anthony Cox claim the copyright on video that he did not shoot?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    Re:

    The "protect (not necessarily sue) or lose the right" applies to trademark, not to copyright. Assuming Mike's summary of the facts are correct, I agree that if appears the judge made an erroneous decision.

     

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  11.  
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    LostSailor (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:58am

    Re: Re:

    comment 10 was me.

     

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  12.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    Re:

    This is precisely what attorneys are worried about when they say you must sue or you risk losing your rights.

    That only applies to trademark, not copyright. So lawyers don't say that about copyright.

    if WWV knew in 2001 that Ono thought she bought the copyright, and they did nothing for 7 years, than too bad for them.

    Um, no, that's not how the law works.

     

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  13.  
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    Shawn, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:10pm

    Re:

    "10 hours of video footage of John Lennon were shot at his estate in 1970(when the Beatles were still together) by Anthony Cox(Yoko Ono's ex-husband, prior to her marriage to Lennon"

     

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  14.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re:

    "if WWV knew in 2001 that Ono thought she bought the copyright, and they did nothing for 7 years, than too bad for them.

    Um, no, that's not how the law works."

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Okay, more importantly, how do you define the parameters around which a company "knew" that she "thought she bought" the copyright? Did the person selling the non-copyright copyright call up WWV and let them know what he was doing?

    Did Ono at some point write WWV a letter that stated "Hey guys! Hope all is well. FYI, I bought the copyright on a specific 10 hours or whatever of some of John's footage. I just randomly thought you guys would like to know, since I have no other reason to tell you as I believe I now am the sole copyright holder. Anyway, I'm off to continue being an ugly shit stain in the annals of artistic music. Peace out!"?

    The idea that is at any level the copyright holder's responsibility to know what other people might randomly believe is such an idiotic notion that I'm not sure where it came from.

     

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  15.  
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    Bridges R Us, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:47pm

    Deal of a lifetime

    Give me $300 000 and I'll give you the brooklyn bridge. You get all the tool money - i mean toll money.

    Even though I don't own the bridge, I'll cc them on the sale
    you do nothing for a few years, then show up and claim the bridge and all toll proceeds. By the logic laid out in the above case, this will ACTUALLY WORK!!!

     

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  16.  
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    Comboman, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:02pm

    Right of publicity?

    The copyright on a film may belong to the person who shot it, but the subject of the film also has rights (right of publicity), unless they waived those rights to the film-maker. Perhaps that is Ono's angle (since she would own Lenon's rights of publicity)?

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:05pm

    There has to be SOMETHING more cause yea... the precedent set here is rather insane.

    If all the facts are straight as we are led to believe... this Judge was on something fierce and this will be appealed.

     

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  18.  
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    RD, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:36pm

    Not really

    "The copyright on a film may belong to the person who shot it, but the subject of the film also has rights (right of publicity), unless they waived those rights to the film-maker. Perhaps that is Ono's angle (since she would own Lenon's rights of publicity)?"

    Technically, no. A) The fact that they allowed the crew in to film is tacit agreement to using said footage. and B) you dont own rights to YOU. You cant copyright a person. While its a good idea to get a release when filming someone (and that may have happened here, dont see that in the article however), its not absolutely necessary to establish ownership rights of the footage shot.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:50pm

    Re: Re:

    All WWV now has to do is act like it has the copyright and wait for a length of time in which Ono doesn't actively try to reclaim what wasn't hers but was given to her because she was mistaken because she bought it from somebody who didn't have it (deep breath)...and BAM!, by this judge's decision, it's their's again.

    Apparently not. You see, Ono had not taken action prior to this lawsuit to establish ownership either. In other words, neither party had sued the other for the same period of time. However, for unexplained reasons, that only works in favor of Ono and not WWV. It's one-way justice. Judge much biased?

     

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  20.  
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    seven, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 2:52pm

    Curious

    Curious. Apparently the court based its decision on Ono's statement that Cox make the video and "not offer it for commercial sale, ever," made the video a 'work for hire,' which put the ball into her court.

    That's a real stretch of the definiton of "work for hire."

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 3:01pm

    Explanation

    # WWV countersued, claiming that Ono was violating its copyright
    # Ono asked the judge to declare the copyright was hers... and the judge agreed.


    It is the job of the Judge in the US legal system to ensure that a politically correct result is obtained. Now in this case we have a well known, wealthy, female, minority widow of a very famous entertainer versus some little relatively-unknown company. There was just no politically correct way the judge could have ruled against her. Case closed.

     

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  22.  
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    Wes, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 3:30pm

    Bridge

    I happen to own a bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan Island that I'd like to sell to Yoko. I swear the deed is real.

    The previous owner's signature is on it and everything.

     

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  23.  
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    peter (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 8:19pm

    Re: Explanation

    Get off the politically correct b.s. A judge can quite readily rule and has ruled against Yoko Ono's assertion of a copyright infringement claim: http://tiny.cc/ZaEjz

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 9:27pm

    Re: Re: Explanation

    Get off the politically correct b.s.

    What's your explanation then? (if you can give it without swearing)

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 11:48pm

    why doesn't that Bitch just die already

    Fuck off Yoko Bitch o!

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Re: Explanation

    Get off the politically correct b.s.

    Perhaps you should tell that to the judge.

    A judge can quite readily rule and has ruled against Yoko Ono's assertion of a copyright infringement claim: http://tiny.cc/ZaEjz

    Some judges are more politically correct that others.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 1:31pm

    oh no is a lying b..ch ! she said she never herad of the beatles in 1968/1968 when she hooked John. LIAR! you'd have to have lived in a cave. she nas no talent at all, none whatsoever- in fact, she is painfully lousy. anyone who says she is a good "artist" is just up her ass for John's money. i only hope she rots in h--ll

     

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  28.  
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    not saying, Jul 14th, 2009 @ 12:54am

    I heard from a friend who new someone...

    I heard from a friend who new someone...that said that his girlfriend slept with a guy who told her that one guy took and made a copy off some film and with out telling them [those who owned it]and sold it to YoYo...then he got caught and was going to do Fed time with no tennis court. So he lied for Yoyo to keep down his 3 squares and a cot...Sooooo fans of this artist don't die yet and it will come...just build a theater or have a computer and they will come...or you can read the hard back with a dvd included!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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