John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, made big strides on Wednesday in a legal feud over footage of the former Beatle smoking pot, writing songs and discussing putting the hallucinogenic drug LSD in President Richard Nixon’s tea.
Ono is in a legal dispute to stop World Wide Video, a New England consortium of Beatles collectors, from releasing the black-and-white footage as a two-hour film titled “3 days in the life” about Lennon during a pivotal and turbulent time for the most celebrated band of the 1960s.
U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel in Boston ruled in favor of Ono in two counts in a case involving videotapes that Rolling Stone magazine has described as “awesome John Lennon footage you might never see.”
The case is centered around who owns the nine hours of raw footage filmed weeks before the “Fab Four” broke up in 1970.
World Wide Video claims ownership of the videos and says it paid more than $1 million for them after legal costs and other expenses. Ono’s lawyers say she purchased the tapes from World Wide through a Florida man.
After that, the case gets murky. World Wide asserts that the tapes were stolen and were sold to Ono illegally, and sued Ono for copyright infringement in a bid to publicly show them.
Zobel told the court that Ono did not do anything constituting infringement — from performing copyrighted work publicly, or distributing or publicly displaying the videos.
“What the plaintiff suggests just doesn’t fit,” Zobel said. “It seems to me the defendant’s motion is well taken because there was no infringement.”
The judge also ruled World Wide waited too long to find out what happened to the stolen tapes. Ono registered the tapes in 2002, but World Wide claims they did not discover Ono had them until they received a letter from her lawyers last year.
“The statute of limitations bars the claim as well,” Zobel said. “The circumstances here really favor the defendant, not the claimant.”
World Wide’s lawyer, Joseph Doyle, said the case was still pending and that the question of who ultimately owned the videotapes had not been resolved. The judge has yet to rule on several other aspects of the case, he added.
World Wide was set to premier the documentary last year at the private Berwick Academy in Maine but abruptly scrapped the screening after the school received a stop order from Ono’s lawyers.
It said it bought 24 original videotapes and their copyrights in 2000 from Anthony Cox, Ono’s husband before her marriage to Lennon in 1969. Cox shot the footage at Lennon’s estate in England for a documentary he planned titled “Portrait.”
The footage, recorded from February 8 to 11, 1970, shows Lennon composing two hits, “Remember” and “Mind Games,” along with a candid discussion of his drug use and scenes that World Wide describes as “intimate and no-holds-barred.”
World Wide says the footage also shows Lennon sitting in front of a teapot saying, “We should put LSD in a teapot for Richard Nixon,” among other scenes of the Beatle smoking marijuana and going through a typical day.