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Guantanamo Hit Parade

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | October 25, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle (c) 2009

SUMMARY: Rock musicians should forget about finding out whether they can sue the USA for playing their work to torture Guantanamo detainees.

The news item that interrogators of suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay interment camp played certain rock music CD’s to their interrogatees to wear them down has lead to the inevitable question whether the United States owes play royalties. Lawyers for certain “artists” are thinking about initiating pre-complaint discovery to determine whether their offerings were used at Guantanamo.

Of course, this is exactly the kind of stuff that fuels the perennial public resentment of lawyers. Nevertheless, please note that behind every greedy lawyer is a greedy client. The bar wouldn’t spend ten minutes speculating on the subject if they didn’t have clients who hope to benefit.

The Volokh Conspiracy, a professorial blog written by a law professor, addresses the subject. While he is not the first to do so, the professor provides a lucid discussion — in contrast to the hit and run commentary of most.

Eugene Volokh says that the issue turns on whether these were public or private performances. Royalties can be claimed for a public performance but not a private one. He suggests that playing music to one detainee is a private performance, while allowing that playing it to the whole prison might be public. Thus, he does not see a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

I’ll let the intellectual property guys fight that one out. However, something more fundamental occurs to me. If you are a successful (and presumably rich) performer, why do you want your public to know that your music is being played to torture people? Doesn’t this guarantee that the net outcome will be negative? Unless, of course, you subscribe to the theory that all publicity is good publicity.

Potential litigants sometimes fail to weigh the negative impact of going on the public record. Some secrets are better left that way.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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