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Lawyers for Yoko Ono go to court today. They face the producers of an unreleased documentary. At issue, 24 grainy videotapes shot in the 1970s. They feature John Lennon at home with Yoko Ono. Ono is also suing the makers of a different documentary titled "Expelled."
Andrea Shea of member station WBUR has more.
ANDREA SHEA: There was a time when Yoko Ono and John Lennon made public art out of their private lives. The image of the couple in bed together - her dressed in black, him naked and curled up tight against her body - is iconic.
Rock critic Tim Riley is working on a biography of John Lennon. He's one of the few people who've seen the video in question.
Mr. TIM RILEY (Rock Critic): It's very simple, you know, like hanging out, watching TV, smoking a joint, you know, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, talking about the events of the day. This is literally Tony Cox holding a camera and just following them around.
SHEA: Tony Cox is Yoko Ono's ex-husband. They divorced in '69. A year later, Cox shot this video of Ono with her new man, John Lennon. Over time, who owns the copyright has been disputed. Forgery, fraud and thievery are being alleged.
Long story short, the legal wheels started turning three years ago when Ono caught wind of an unfinished documentary titled, "Three Days in the Life" that features the footage. Now the filmmakers are suing Ono for ownership. Her lawyers wouldn't talk on tape for this story, but the filmmakers' attorney Joseph Doyle says what his clients want is simple.
Mr. JOSEPH DOYLE (Attorney): The right to show this film, to exhibit it, to use it commercially. It's - what we're told - extremely valuable. So that's really what's at stake here.
Mr. RILEY: The thing about it is that it really is kind of boring.
SHEA: That's Lennon biographer Tim Riley again. He says watching Ono and Lennon smoking doobies or even talking candidly about his heroin addiction isn't new. Hardcore fanatics might be tickled by the homegrown look and feel of the footage, but Riley questions its commercial viability. He's also not surprised Ono wants control. And he completely understands the widow's other current lawsuit against the makers of the documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."
(Soundbite of song, "Imagine")
Mr. JOHN LENNON (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) And no religion, too.
SHEA: In it, filmmakers use Lennon's song "Imagine" to make their own points about evolution and intelligent design. Riley says it's Yoko Ono's job to protect the John Lennon brand.
Mr. RILEY: He married her. He made her the guardian of his estate. And so why shouldn't she block something that she thinks is sub par or not up to snuff or doesn't fit in her plan of how the estate should be handled? That's her call.
SHEA: And Riley says she's not really lawsuit happy.
Mr. RILEY: I don't get the feeling that she wakes up in the morning and decides to file a dozen lawsuits because she feels paranoid and everyone's after her and making money off of her.
SHEA: As for the disputed footage in question in Boston, today is the first hearing with the federal judge. So it will be some time before the rest of us have an opportunity to see it for ourselves.
For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea.
(Soundbite of song, "Imagine")
Mr. LENNON: (Singing) And the world will live as one.
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