Are musicians owed royalties for performance of their music in torture chambers?

Canadian copyfighter Howard Knopf has suggested (presumably with tongue firmly planted in cheek) that recording artists whose music is played by torturers in Gitmo are owed performance royalties:
Leaving aside the legal niceties about whose law if any applies in that dreadful place, one can only wonder if ASCAP might not want a piece of the action. After all, it went after the Girl Guides not so long ago. And if it could try to make a buck off Girl Guides, who are nice people, why not alleged terrorists? Why should terrorists enjoy free music?
Link (Thanks, Howard!)


  1. That would lead to the spectacle of Milli’s estate suing Vanilli for half the royalties.

  2. Although it’s totally awesome, in theory, it would ultimately mean the government, and therefore the US taxpayers paying more money for this ridiculous ‘war on terror’. I suppose it would probably amount to pennies compared to what we’re already shelling out, but still…

  3. It would be ironic for the hypocritical Green Day to make a buck off men who would cut that douche-bag band’s heads off. Green Day, Coldplay, Kanye et al. have become rich under Bush — poor oppressed guys.

  4. I hate to break it to you but the amount they owe is really small.

    I have a restaurant client who i built an mp3 playing computer and connected it to a sound system for the owner.

    He owns all the CDs that he scanned into his computer to play at the restaurant.

    He decided to actually pay for the right to play these tracks 24/7 in his place of business.

    His price was something like $16 a year.

  5. Since the listening was involuntary (and was unpleasant,I’m assuming) perhaps in this case the Bands owe the Inmates?

  6. Hey I know the RIAA is into some pretty venal litigation, but comparing taking legal action (even against kids and grans) for sharing music to detention without trial and torture is pretty exaggerated, no?

  7. Would it be possible to sue using “diminished value” statutes? Granted, it would be needlessly complex, but it just might be crazy enough to work. *clutches cigar in teeth* “I love it when a plan comes together”

  8. ROFL House! That’s totally fucking awesome. Deicide’s rolling with gold pentacles this year.

  9. I wonder, imagine if your an artist and you find out one of your songs is being USED there, would you have the right to say no to that use of it? I mean imagine if someone slipped a Jonathan Coulton song to mess with peoples heads… I don’t know his actual opinion, but if I were him Id be kind of pissed.

  10. TheMind – The US does not have a “moral rights” clause in its copyright laws, which is what a creator typically uses to prevent particular uses (protecting “the integrity of the work”) in countries that do use the concept.

  11. If you were David Gray (of “Babylon” fame), would you feel insulted that your one hit were used for torture, or appreciate the royalties the US military would be paying you?

  12. Alas, the US Government is immune to civil lawsuits.

    @#7, that really bothers me. Does anyone actually believe that customers are coming to that restaurant to hear the mp3s? That’s just one step away from saying that if I have friends over, I can’t play my music without paying royalties.

  13. If the RIAA was paid royalties, we could use that data to find out something about what was done to the detainees. What, exactly, does the US Gov consider torture in music?

  14. This would be a logistical nightmare. In the case of a listener who is undergoing water boarding he may hear less than half of the tune being played. On the other hand, someone who is subjected to sleep deprivation will get a full 24 hour benefit of the tunes. So this would be a tough call.

    But we do need to ensure that our western artists get a piece of the war on terror.Perhaps they could all get together and do a ‘We Are the World’ type selection (video-included) where they could all get paid royalties. Then this could be the official soundtrack for torture in every camp that holds these types of prisoners.

  15. Seems they should get DOUBLE royalties (or more), as the playing of their music in such situations is probably going to cause the victims to AVOID their music in the future. The torturers are essentially taking away a portion of their possible audience forever.

  16. Ah yes… torture chamber music… there’s nothing like stringed classical instruments and their frighteningly soothing sounds to inspire confession….

  17. TAKUAN: I knew someone would get around to alluding to the ‘ol Ludwig Van… =D

    And chronologically speaking, TG got there in the late ’70s, (Yes, though it may be hard to believe, there was life before 24 after all…)

  18. What I find most disturbing in the end, is that when I look at the playlist of favorites the torturers (yes, torturers) prefer to use, I can’t get over the feeling they just brought their own list of favorite songs to listen to and decided these songs were capable of breaking the spirit of those who are exposed to them.
    Either these people have such a tremendous lack of imagination that they cannot think of anything more creative beyond the attention span of their own IPod playlist (and granted, they weren’t exactly hired to be imaginative in the first place, but still…), or they genuinely believe their own preference in music is the perfect choice for turning people into cooperative zombies, which in itself would be something warranting some serious self-reflection, unless you are a cooperative zombie.

  19. If you were David Gray (of “Babylon” fame), would you feel insulted that your one hit were used for torture, or appreciate the royalties the US military would be paying you?

    That’s answered here:

    “It’s an issue that no one wants to deal with,” says David Gray, one of the few artists willing to speak about the subject. “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.”

    Gray’s music became associated with the torture debate after Haj Ali, the hooded man in the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs, told of being stripped, handcuffed and forced to listen to a looped sample of Babylon, at a volume so high he feared that his head would burst.

    “The moral niceties of whether they’re using my song or not are totally irrelevant,” says Gray. “We are thinking below the level of the people we’re supposed to oppose, and it goes against our entire history and everything we claim to represent. It’s disgusting, really. Anything that draws attention to the scale of the horror and how low we’ve sunk is a good thing.”

    The singer wonders whether governments who use music as a torture technique without asking permission from the artists involved could face legal action. “In order to play something publicly, you have to have legal permission and you have to apply for that.

    I wonder if the US government bothered, but I very much doubt it. Perhaps you could sue, but let’s face it, they’re outside the law on the whole thing anyway.”


    CD playlist for

    Noriega’s house
    Branch Davidian compound
    Abu Ghraib

  21. Ken, why so hostile to Takuan in this thread?

    People were not only talking about the specific thread, but engaging in multi-side-thread-chat about music and it’s relation to torture etc.

    A Clockwork Orange was linked, a film famous for it’s connecting music to torture and brainwashing. Takuan linked another film, where music is linked to oppression in a concentration camp. Is it such a leap?

    The second link you seem to have issue with, is also related to the flowed conversation people were having. Perhaps if you have a problem with Takuan, you would discuss it privately in email.

  22. Couple of interesting ideas going on here.

    1- The Public Listening would be dependent on the situation: If they just blared it into a single cell, then its not really public. BUT if they blare it at a compound or wing – and hit the cells, the halls, and the guards – I think that could be construed as pretty public. And if its loud enough that its being heard in parts of guantanamo bay, i think you could easily argue that public.

    2- Someone mentioned that royalties were something like $16 — which is true. They’re very cheap – if you pay them. But if you don’t pay them, then you can be sued, face fines, and have liabilities, etc.

  23. without even looking I can guarantee there are laws already in place making it impossible to sue the military. Specific or de facto.

  24. Actually Jonathan, in the single-cell version: because the listener didn’t choose the music or operate the equipment, it could easily be argued that it was being presented to him as a part of a program. This is not an “at home with a friend” situation, it’s a organised, policy-based activity, so would probably require licensing.

    Also, public performance does require more than one person.

  25. Pretty awesome comment. A better question is of course: why should we consume the mass-produced garbage that these companies are selling to us? Maybe we need real culture that’s not owned by corporations?

  26. I say yes, simply because the MAFIAA and the goverment both operate from a guilty-until-proven innocent perspective. The government sees us all, in custody and not, as potential terrorists and the Entertainment Industrial Complex sees us all, in custody and not, as copyright criminals first and customers second. I can’t think of a relationship where the two parties are in more violent agreement than this.

    So yes, yes they are owed royalties. They should just have to go to Gitmo to collect. This should not present a problem as they’ve sent already lawyers to serve papers to MP3 downloaders/traders in Gaza.

  27. If I song I had written / performed were being used as torture, I should certainly have the right to not have it appropriated by the military, in a free society. I’m sure Frank Zappa would never have wanted The Torture Never Stops played at gitmo (I don’t know whether it is fortunate or unfortunate that these guys don’t seem to have a lot of taste (except for RATM, which they don’t get the irony of their abusing.) It’s just another layer of absurdity on top of the whole monstrosity. It seems there is nothing beneath you if you have GAWD on your side.

    Aside: Interesting where James Hetfield draws the line on unlawful use of his music (since he thinks it’s a good thing people are using his music to torture people. I guess it’s only ok to bust your dedicated fans for having bootlegs… Glad we straightened that out.)

    Another aside: While I was finding the link to that video, I also came across this very weird translation of The Torture Never Stops by some uncredited German band… The lead singer actually takes a scream solo, as only a german performer could. Torture? You decide:

  28. well…that’s the spirit! holding the mirror to the beast, and all that…bravo, that’s good darts.

  29. Metallica and all of the RIAA supporters are the on the torture playlist. Insofar as they are RIAA lackeys, they have been paid.

  30. Hmm.. this “torture music” a bit diff than the Andersonville String Band in The Good The Bad and The Ugly, huh?
    What serves that band’s function now I wonder…

  31. Hmmm, actually Noriega’s house is a non flashy mansion in an affluent and quiet neighborhood. Back in the day he had gold plumbing, well kept gardens and a hidden Yemayá shrine. No torture chambers there.
    Decaying and sacked since his ousting, it’s being sold at $4 millions to anyone interested.

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