Torture Royalties

We’ve tackled the future of music distribution and we’ve taken on the War on Terror. But what happens when the two intersect?

Apparently, guards at Guantanamo Bay have been playing David Gray‘s “Babylon” at all hours of the day and night, to distress detainees and soften them up for interrogation. Since this arguably constitutes a public performance of Gray’s song by the U.S. military, the government technically may owe royalties to Gray for the use of his track.

Will the military pay up or stop using the music?

It seems unlikely that ASCAP or BMI will try to collect the royalties due to them from governments that use music as a weapon: after all, nobody seemed to mind when officials in a suburb of Sydney, Australia started blasting Barry Manilow songs as a means of chasing hooligans from a public park there.

(HT: Wired‘s Listening Post Blog and Howard Knopf)


I had a roommate that was using this form of torture on me. I think she didn't realize that she basically played the same two, depressing songs on loop all summer. Luckily I was able to leave the room when I wanted.

But, if I had been imprisoned in that room with those songs over, and over, I think I would have very quickly lost some mental stability. Though as torture goes, I'd consider this to be the mildest possible.

"Babylon" seems like a weird choice, but I'm sure some expert was paid way too much money to pick it, so I'm not going to question that. I think the worse one from that list is the "meow mix" song.


In Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three," the East German Stasi torture young Horst Bucholz by strapping him in a chair and forcing him to listen to "She Wore a Teeny Weeny Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" over and over again. Unfortunately he was innocent and didn't have any information to give them, so he couldn't make it stop.


And you have a strange definition of torture if you equate 24/7 AC/DC with the blowtorch treatment.

But frankly, that's not really the point.


frankenduf - yes we use sleep deprivation and other techniques that may make the faint of heart a bit queezy and whiney. We do not however; decapitate soldiers and send the videos out to be seen by their families. I wonder what kind of superpower we must be, that our freedom fighters use the popular music they enjoy to uplift themselves and accomplish the goal of weakening our enemies shows me that our military is ingenious- multi-tasking. ROCK ON!


#16, I'll tell you what kind of superpower we are: a victorious one. One which will perform any necessity in order to assure sovereignty into the foreseeable future.


No, I'm just saying if we're going to discuss what constitutes torture, let's really discuss it -- in full context, examining how all parties in this conflict treat the issue.

That's what a thinking person does.

Is subjecting someone to AC/DC at high volume torture? I don't think so. Is waterboarding? Possibly. Is strapping someone down and going at them with a power drill or a blowtorch? Most definitely.

That fact that we're even having a moral discussion about this issue clearly delineates us from our enemies on this subject -- people who employ the most barbaric methods of torture as casually as if they were eating a sandwich.


sorry, but this post is too flippant- if our guys were captured, and some arabic claptrap was played as a sleep deprivation technique, it wouldn't play for cute analysis- the fact that we torture is a serious signal as to what type of superpower we are

Oliver Townshend

You're right frankenduf, the topic is flippant. Sometimes when something awful is happening, mocking it has an effect. Maybe here, maybe not.


How many of the listed songs abowe can be played in Guitar Hero? Thats just another way to train new heroes :-p

Michael Luo

Bring me the head of the person who suggested using American Pie as torture.

Oliver Townshend

jblog - AC/DC 24x7 is torture. 4 minutes isn't. Waterboarding is. Attacking them with a powerdrill or blowtorch is. You have a very strange definition of torture, that you think just because it isn't as violent as the opposition it is morally better. We learnt at school that two wrongs don't make a right, clearly something that many have forgotten.


@joblog - #20
So as long as you torture people less than my enemy, I am "good". Interesting definition of a democratic, freedom loving nation. This means basically your moral is based on who your country is fighting at the moment. Come on - think before you write ...


If they really want 'em to crack, I'd suggest they try a few selections from the Osmonds' catalog.

David Gray Admirer

The idea that David Gray's song Babylon is used as torture is absurd. That song is deep and uplifting. I think that giving prisoners a song that is actually thought provoking is more of a relief from boredom. :)

brent posted a list of songs it claimed were/are used in this manner (Babylon is on the list), it includes:

'F**K Your God' by Deicide
'Die MF Die' by Dope
'Take Your Best Shot' by Dope
'White America' by Eminem
'Kim' by Eminem
'Barney Theme Song'
'Bodies' by Drowning Pool
'Enter Sandman' by Metallica
'Meow Mix Jingle'
'Sesame Street Theme Song'
'Babylon' by David Gray
'Born in the USA' by Bruce Springsteen
'Shoot to Thrill' by AC/DC
'Hells Bells' by AC/DC
'Stayin Alive' by The Bee Gees
'All Eyes on Me' by Tupac
'Dirty' by Christine Aguilera
'America' by Neil Diamond
'Bulls on Parade' by Rage Against the Machine
'American Pie' by Don McLean
'Click Click Boom' by Saliva
'Cold' by Matchbox 20
'Swan Dive' by Hed PE
'Raspberry Beret' by Prince


Hey, I kind of like that song! But Barry Manilow would definitely be against the Geneva conventions. So did they actually buy the David Gray CD, or download it from a legit online source, or did they steal it? There's the question. Is it a public performance or a private gathering? I mean, the detainees are basically invited there -- so to speak -- so it's not really a public performance, is it? If I have a bunch of people over to my house and play "Babylon" on my stereo, I don't have to pay Mr. Gray do I? (Would I get in trouble for torturing my guests?)


Uh oh--we used to sing "Raspberry Beret" to our dog...were we torturing her?

That list of songs is hilarious.

H Dizzle

Can we remember "Safety Dance" in Biodome?

Mike B

Since government is the originator and enforcer of the limited monopoly granted through copyright why haven't government exempted themselves from the provisions therein? The government probably spends billions just dealing with the hassle of auditing and properly tracking software licenses. By exempting themselves the government would save a significant amount of taxpayer money even if they continued to pay for the most of the creative works they use.

Of course we all know the reason they don't do this is because our government continues those to pay lobbyists instead of those that pay the bills.

David S

I think the bigger questions are:
What does David Gray think about the military's use of his song as a weapon/to soften up detainees? Does this help or hurt his image? And if he were opposed to the military using his song this way, could he do anything to stop it?