Friday, March 02, 2007

As a rule, I have tried to keep this blog apolitical. There's many great resources out there, far more knowledgeable and engaged than I am (like Lindsay or Craig). However, via Darcy, I've come across two very important pieces of legal/political news concerning musicians and artists that bear repeating.

Quick one first: An AFM bulletin encouraging musicians who have had run-ins with damaged gear or unruly airport officials while travelling with their instruments to email with details. Doesn't matter if you're a union member or not, the more voices they have to present to US Congress, the better. I hope this extends to other countries, eventually. I feel especially sorry for any double-reed players who have to explain why they need to have gougers and knives and all sorts of sharp equipment on them when we're no longer allowed to fly with toothpaste in a carry-on.

A more intricate, and more disturbing story, courtesy of Carl (Zoilus) Wilson and Naomi Klein: Music being used as torture at Gitmo, and possibly elsewhere. I'll admit that when I first read inklings of this a few months ago, I laughed at the irony of the US government playing Rage Against the Machine, in any context. But Carl's right - now that torturous music is no longer a metaphor, but very real, it's no longer funny.

Unlike some European legal systems, the anglo-saxon tradition doesn't include droit moral, the "moral rights" of a creator over her work, which (among other things ) includes control over any use of the work that offends the artist's sensibilities. And I'm generally glad that it doesn't. Once a work of art is released into the public sphere, I believe, it becomes part of the collective unconscious, of popular/folk culture; compensation and copyright issues are trickier, but on principle images and ideas should be available for resuse, recontextualization, satire and even misappropriation. I don't think that the Catholic Church should control what artists do with icons of the Virgin Mary, or Muslims the image of Muhammad; and so I don't think Bruce Springsteen should have been able to stop Ronald Reagan from inverting the meaning of Born in the USA for propaganda purposes, though I wish people hadn't been careless enough to fall for it.

But musicians and music lovers' deeper moral rights are violated when the story goes beyond a figurative abuse of cultural discourse to the literal abuse of human subjects. [...] Perhaps the music industry could follow their lead, turning their attention from the "monetization" of music to the weaponization of it for a few heartbeats.
Some artists and composers do have somewhat of a droit moral, though, in the ability to refuse licensing, and I do not begrudge them that. In fact, unlike Carl, I think individual artists should be able to prohibit the use of their work in contexts they do not approve. There's a difference between a specific song and a global folkloric/religious icon like the Virgin Mary or Muhammad. The latter are concepts or models that artists work with - a figure in an artist's original creation, as opposed to an outside institution or corporation using an artist's work verbatim and wholesale. In other words, a more apt comparison would be using a reproduction of Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin for... I don't know, a cocktail mix label or something.

1 comment:

Dan said...

It's definitely a troubling issue David. The Society for Ethnomusicology posted a position statement against the use of music as a torture device, and it has generated quite a bit of commentary:

I'd be interested to hear from more musicians whose music has been used to see what their views on the subject are.