And the moral is...

WHAT DO the US Department of Defense, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and the producers of the creationist movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed have in common? They have all attracted complaints that they've abused creators' work for their own ends.

First, there is the case of UK musician David Gray. A whole slew of musos were contacted for comment about the US military using their works at ear-splitting volume in cells where it detains "terror suspects" - a practice that many (though not the US Department of Defense) would regard as torture.

David told noted civil rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, writing in the Guardian in June, that "It's shocking that there isn't more of an outcry. I'd gladly sign up to a petition that says don't use my music, but it seems to be missing the point a bit." Other musicians - or perhaps their agents - had declined to make a comment.

And David was rewarded, perhaps predictably, by Times columnist Caitlin Moran missing the point in a foolishly and lazily bitchy fashion.

But there may be more to be done than a petition. Sean Michaels asked - again nearly missing the point - whether musicians like David could get royalties for such "performances" of their work as torture. Answer: probably. Sean did mention what to the Freelance is the heart of the issue: the so-called "moral right" of any creator to object to any use of their work that is "contrary to their honour or reputation".

Clearly, it seems to us, the Pentagon's use of the work is that. The Freelance's people are talking to lawyers' people and David Gray's people about the possibility of taking it further. Money is not the main point here: a creator's integrity is.

But there are no "moral rights" in US law (except for works of visual art produced in signed and numbered editions of 250 or fewer on a Tuesday). The prospect of a copyright-holder seeking extradition of the Secretary of State for Defense to the UK looms...

That glaring lack in US law was illustrated by the Federal District Court in New York, which in June ruled against Yoko Ono and Sean and Julian Lennon, who had tried to stop the makers of the pro- Creationist propaganda reel Expelled using John Lennon's song Imagine. The court ruled that this was "fair use" - something that could surely be appealed, at a price.

The cudgels have been taken up again by singer Jackson Browne, who is suing the people behind an advert for presidential candidate John McCain that (ab)uses his song Running on Empty.

And what does this all have to do with, say, freelance writers and photographers? It could set precedents that will decide when you can object to abuse of your work, is what.


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