Yoko Ono’s 20-year dispute with an ex-aide who had pilfered some of John Lennon’s documents ended late Friday with a settlement in Ono’s lawsuit against Frederic Seaman. In the settlement, Seaman agreed to relinquish the copyright to all but one of the 374 disputed Lennon family photos in the case, as well as refrain from publishing another tell-all book or even granting interviews about his job as Lennon’s personal assistant during the last 18 months of the rocker’s life.
Seaman’s defense — that his free speech rights were being abridged, and that he had shot the photos on his own time with his own camera — was all but scuttled late Thursday with Manhattan Federal Court judge Leonard Sand’s ruling that Seaman was still bound by a confidentiality agreement he signed in 1979. Seaman’s defense was also undercut by evidence from his own diaries that he had planned all along to write a tell-all about Lennon, whom he deceived about his intentions (according to a diary entry), and that he had begun talking with business associates about selling his book and other Lennon merchandise within hours of the ex-Beatle’s murder in 1980.
Ono had fired Seaman in 1981 and later learned that he had stolen boxes of documents from the family’s apartment, including Lennon’s diaries. Convicted of second-degree larceny in 1983, Seaman was sentenced to probation, and ordered to return all the material to Ono. The current suit, filed in 1999, alleged that Seaman, who had since published two Lennon books, still hadn’t returned the photographs and some other documents.
In the end, the trial lasted only five days and ended with a dramatic confrontation between Seaman and Sean Lennon, who had known Seaman as a family friend when he was a little boy. Moments before the settlement was announced, Seaman offered Sean, now 27, a copy of the Japanese version of one of his books, according to the New York Post. Lennon responded by saying, ”You were the closest of family — I felt so betrayed by you, more than anyone.” He added, ”This will be the best book I’ll ever burn.”
For his part, Seaman offered the family a formal apology in a statement read to the court. It said, ”I did wrong by you and indeed am guilty of violating your trust. After more than 20 years, it is time for me to ask your forgiveness for my actions. It is impossible to undo what has taken place. But it stops here and now.”