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Fighting torture with copyright

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Column For the French, the business of exploiting available laws, directives and other rules is an art form. One such inventive use of the constraints is the 'greve du zele' ('working to rules' strike action) where those on strike work more, not less.

When on greve du zele workers observe all rules - however archaic or unsuitable they may be - to the letter with such minutiae that their productivity becomes virtually nil. Greve du zele gives employees who are by law forbidden to go on strike, the ability to protest, making the interdiction moot.

It is most popular with airport staff.

Similar techniques are being applied in the UK. Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) outlaws protests without police permission in a designated area within a 1km straight line from the central part of Parliament Square. Several individuals involved in peaceful protests have already been arrested under this law. Comedian and human rights activist Mark Thomas calls it a "mass lone demonstration", and describes how to participate

But one of the most intriguing suggestions has come from British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith.

Stafford Smith suggests that musicians use copyright law to hold the American government to account for its use of music to torture detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo.

Music as torture / Music as weapon

Suzanne G Cusick in her article entitled "Music as torture / Music as weapon", describes the history of sound as an instrument of torture. The military has a long history of developing sound itself as a well, using infrasound, or subsonic frequencies, to disorientate battlefield opponents.

Writes Cusick:

"As early as May 2003 the BBC reported that the US Army had used Metallica's Enter Sandman and Barney the Purple Dinosaur's I Love You in the interrogation of Iraqi detainees, playing the songs repeatedly at high volume inside of shipping containers."

She also finds mentions that the US Army used music by Christina Aguilera, Eminem (Slim Shady, White America) and Dr Dre. Stafford Smith adds to this list Aerosmith, Don McLean and Bruce Springsteen (Born in the USA).

Bruce Springsteen has already shown a willingness to defend his 'brand': he fought and lost a trademark dispute involving a cybersquatter.

According to Stafford Smith, he has the opportunity, with other musicians, not to have their music used by US government to torture unlawful enemy combatants, to sue under copyright law.

Moral rights

Musicians can use their moral rights (Article 6bis of the Berne Convention) to object to the derogatory treatment of their work to prevent any similar further use and claim compensation for the damage to their honour and reputation.

This aspect of copyright law is not fully recognised by the USA; it is not referenced in the EU-US-Japan-led Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. The USA has historically been fully behind the economic rights and even extended the copyright legislation with the so called Mickey Mouse Act giving more commercial benefits to the industry. Europe has traditionally been more balanced, recognising both moral and economic rights as fundamental. Closely related to the right of integrity is the right of identification, which when implemented let creators refuse to be identified if their work has been edited in a way they object to.

Ironically, moral rights have been under by the Creative Commons utopians. By wanting to liberalise copyright to allow all remixes, they need to get rid of the right of integrity.

The BBC's Bill Thompson notes that Lawrence Lessig dismisses moral rights as "a French idea" that has no real usefulness.

This isn't so. Artists could work with their labels to sue for copyright infringement and demand detailed information as to when and where their music has been played so that they can calculate how much royalties they are owed.

Copyright law, which has been extended for the sole benefit of media corporations, could possibly achieve more for the human rights of many where human right laws have mostly failed. ®

Bootnote Last week, I went to Charing Cross police station and got my Application for Demonstration approved. I'll be demonstrating on my own to call for the ëPolice to consider other options than to arrest innocents (and keep their DNA) or shoot them'. I won't tell you where or when I'll demonstrate as this is a lone event. Go organise your own demonstration next month.

David Mery is a technologist based in London for the past 14 years, who for the past two years has become a civil rights activist. For this he would like to thank the Metropolitan Police Service for their help. His website is gizmonaut.net.

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