Yoko Ono and Frederic Seaman have reached an agreement to settle her copyright claim in exchange for Seaman’s silence on all things Lennon.
Last October, I wrote about a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Yoko Ono against Frederic Seaman, who was employed as John Lennon’s assistant during the final years of the artist’s life. Ono and Seaman have been battling in court on and off for more than 20 years over accusations that Seaman appropriated Lennon family photographs and disclosed information about his former employer in violation of a confidentiality agreement.
Ono’s current lawsuit alleges that Seaman breached the terms of a 2003 consent judgment by giving interviews about his time with the Lennon family and displaying copyrighted photographs of Lennon in connection with those interviews.
Unfortunately for those hoping to see this battle play out in court, the parties have reached a settlement in the case. The good news is that the entire settlement agreement has been publicly filed, as Ono asks the court to bless a new stipulated permanent injunction against Seaman.
Under the terms of the parties’ agreement, Seaman admitted that he violated the terms of the 2003 consent judgment by giving interviews to various online Beatles fan platforms. And while Seaman has reaffirmed his obligations under the earlier judgment, the parties have also agreed to a new injunction that’s much broader in scope going forward. If approved by the judge, Seaman would be prevented—by threat of contempt—from engaging in an astonishingly wide range of otherwise lawful activities. Among the agreement’s notable provisions:
- Seaman isn’t permitted to make “any statements to a third party concerning or relating to John Lennon individually or as a member of the Beatles, Yoko Ono Lennon or Sean Lennon,” even if the information “is otherwise in the public domain or previously published.”
- “It is understood and agreed that Seaman is ordered prior to any private discussion with a third party” to provide them with a copy of the injunction (and then within five days provide the third party’s name and contact information to Ono).
- “Seaman agrees that he shall never publicly use or publicly display a photograph of John Lennon, Yoko Ono Lennon, Sean Lennon or the Lennon family, even with a third party photographer’s permission.”
- Seaman and those acting in concert with him are prohibited from “[u]sing the name John Lennon, Yoko Ono Lennon, Sean Lennon or the Lennon Family, including without limitation, their voice, audio recordings, film footage and/or music … [or] using a song title or song lyrics written, owned or performed by John Lennon, Yoko Ono Lennon and Sean Lennon, whether claimed to be fair use or otherwise.”
Read literally, the agreement appears to prevent Seaman from speaking to anyone—on any subject—without telling them about the injunction and then notifying Ono. He’s also seemingly prohibited from doing so much as playing a Beatles album in his own home.
It remains to be seen whether the court will sign off on the parties’ arrangement and enter the injunction. Because injunctions are enforced by courts, they constitute state action, and several courts have held that an injunction that enforces contractual promises by prohibiting speech constitutes a “prior restraint” implicating the First Amendment.
If there’s any solace for Seaman in all of this, it’s that the parties have stipulated to a $5,000 judgment on Ono’s copyright infringement claim—which Ono has agreed not to enforce so long as Seaman complies with the rest of the agreement. This is a lot less than Ono had been seeking, and Seaman won’t need to pay anything so long as he remains silent.
That said, given that the copyright claim was the entire basis by which Ono was able to get her case into federal court in the first place, the tail definitely seems to wagging the dog here. Judging by Seaman’s GoFundMe page, my sense is that the parties’ agreement had at least as much to do with Seaman’s inability to match Ono’s legal resources as with his potential liability.
You can read the full settlement agreement and proposed injunction papers below and decide for yourself. As always, let me know what you think!
UPDATE—On January 19, 2021, the Court signed off on the parties’ stipulated settled as-is, without comment, and issued the injunction as proposed.View Fullscreen