I’m still not clear on the details: we’ve long known that the producers of Expelled! show some version of a video called “The Inner Life of a Cell” in their movie. You can view the version apparently used in the film at the end of this short clip (and I discuss some of the ways in which their usage of it is misleading here, regardless of the copyright issues). This video is no stranger to controversy or creationists: no less than ID’s crown prince, William Dembski, was accused of stealing it and stripping it of its narration and credits without permission for one of his lectures.
Whether the producers of Expelled! once used the original version or not and now have replaced it with a near copy, and whether that near copy is a truly new production or just a cheap reprocessing of the images, we still don’t really know (though we suspect…). But as a copyrighted production (making such videos, let alone doing the research to make them useful, ain’t cheap), the owners of the original video (Harvard and XVIVO) have always had some grounds to at least complain either way. There’s so far no evidence that the producers ever asked for permission, let alone paid to use the clip in their for-profit film.
And now it seems that Peter Irons, an attorney who has been a longtime foe of Intelligent Design efforts, has been busy drafting a complaint which seeks to excise the material from the film (which might prove to be a substantial burden for the producers at this point) based on these copyright claims.
This could get quite interesting. If this does turn into a legal battle, it would be another perfect excuse for the producers to lamely claim that “Darwinists” just don’t want people to see their “dangerous” film, or that they want the video itself hushed up (on the contrary: it’s a great vid… as long as it has its original narration and credits intact, as well as people understanding what it does and does not show). Regardless, it’s something to keep an eye on.
And in any case, messageboard-star Quidam, who had such a great single image review of Expelled! way back when, has the perfect photoshop response to this controversy too:
Update: Well, that didn’t take long. As I noted, Ben Stein has lept from one wacky conspiracy theory to another in his career as a right-wing ideologue, and conspiracy theorists seem to abound
amongst his fans as well. Here’s William Wallace, claiming, as I suggested the film’s fans might, that the legal injunction is some sort of attempt to silence the “truth.” And if that weren’t nutty enough, Mr. Wallace also suspects that the Harvard/XVIVO video was actually produced by “closest creationists,” who are only suing to protect their copyright claims because they’ve been cowed into submission by a tiny think tank on the West Coast with threats of a “Sternberging.” Which itself is bizarre. Exactly what does it mean to “Sternberg” someone? To criticize them for misconduct and unethical behavior… but not do anything to them at all?
Update Twain: I’ve altered the post title to “copying” since stealing is too definitive: as perhaps wasn’t clear in my discussion, the version in the film is almost certainly a reproduction of the original film: the question is whether they really did one from scratch, with original research (as Jonathan Wells seems to imply), or basically had a CGI studio simply whip up a near copy of it. One of the video’s original creators, David Blonsky, makes the case that only the latter makes sense: the Expelled! version isn’t just showing the same structure, but the very same shots and proteins out of thousands and thousands of possible ones to choose from, and hundreds of different ways to represent them. He also notes, yet again, that these videos are very misleading guides to “cells as artfully engineered factories” if you forget that they are leaving out what is a rather key element: the chaotic Brownian churnings that actually take place in a cell, rather than the depicted smooth mechanical that make it far easier for viewers to understand the overall progression.