BOSTON – Yoko Ono is the rightful copyright holder of rare, intimate footage showing John Lennon and his family in London in 1970, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel last week refused to reinstate a copyright-infringement lawsuit filed by a Lawrence, Mass.-based company against Lennon’s widow and the broker who sold her the tapes.
World Wide Video LLC sued Ono in March 2008, accusing her of copyright infringement and of wrongfully interfering with its personal property. Ono countersued, saying she is the rightful owner and that World Wide Video has no rights to the material.
Ono wants to keep the material private. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by The Associated Press through her Boston attorneys.
The 10 hours of footage was shot at Lennon’s England estate in February 1970 – before the Beatles broke up – by Anthony Cox, Ono’s husband before her marriage to Lennon in 1969. It shows Lennon hunched over a piano, smoking marijuana and joking about putting LSD in President Richard Nixon’s tea. It has never been shown publicly in its entirety.
World Wide Video claimed it owns the raw footage. The company produced a two-hour documentary, “3 Days in the Life,” using the footage, and planned to show it at a private school in Maine in 2007. The screening was scrapped after the company received a stop order from Ono’s lawyers. The producers had previously shown excerpts from the film four times.
In court documents, Ono said she had a “clear and absolute” agreement with Cox when he shot the footage that it would never be “commercially exhibited, commercially exploited or released.”
Ono said she purchased all rights to the videotapes for $300,000 in 2002 from Anthony Pagola, an intermediary who had copies.
But the principals of World Wide Video – John Fallon and Robert Grenier – say that sale was invalid and that the company bought copyright from Cox for $125,000 in 2000. They claim Pagola wound up with the tapes after they were stolen by an ex-employee.
Fallon and Grenier claim that, in 2001, Pagola approached them and threatened to destroy the tapes unless World Wide agreed to let him broker a sale. Fallon and Grenier claim that Pagola later sold the tapes and copyright to Ono without their permission and that he forged their signatures on the sale agreement.
The judge on Thursday sided with Ono. On Monday, the court issued a notice of default against Pagola after he failed to respond to the lawsuit.
The judge will issue the final order in the copyright infringement case after ruling on damages against Pagola, World Wide Video’s attorney Joseph T. Doyle Jr. said.