In a letter to The Times this week, I and a group of other musicians called for the right to stop our music being used to finance the BNP. The letter called for a ‘moral right’ to allow performers and writers to prevent such abuse.
Of course there are already various moral rights protected by UK copyright law. In fact Chapter 4 of the 1988 Copyright Act is titled Moral Rights, so you might be forgiven for thinking that musicians were already able to do this, but unfortunately not. I can prosecute if someone says they wrote my songs, or indeed if some says that I wrote theirs. Other than that I can only stop ‘derogatory’ treatment of my work, which means changing it in a way that distorts or mutilates it, or is prejudicial to my ‘honour or reputation’. Given that I’m both a drummer and a political activist, I probably have too little of either to be worth protecting.
On the face of it then, this seems like a prime candidate for legislative reform, but as ever there are problems. The main one is the drastic shift in music industry economics it would entail. If I could object on moral grounds to the BNP using my work, then why not to other organisations? I might convert to some obscure religion, and object to sale of Blur CD’s in any shop run by those who don’t share my views. I might stop sales in HMV or iTunes over some real or imagined sharp business practice, or impose all kinds of conditions on the sale or use of my work. In other words, I would be able to do all the things the copyright owners currently can. At a stroke of the legislator’s pen, the copyrights would have effectively returned to the creators, and the record industry would find itself neutered.
The industry has millions to spend lobbying to defend their position, and won’t give an inch. In fact right now they are pushing extremely hard in the other direction, pouring money into EU legislation that restricts artist and consumer rights even further.
Racism in action
However, I did think it was worth making the point that, just because you see someone’s music on sale by the BNP, it doesn’t mean they are a supporter, but I have met a lot of supporters in recent campaigning work, and they have a fresh new image.In the past, a Labour candidate knocking on a BNP supporter’s door could usually expect a punch in the mouth, but recently I have been greeted by smiles and handshakes.
This weekend I had a letter from a resident saying he had voted Labour all his life, but would now be voting BNP. There was no return address, but he had included his phone number so I gave him a call, and we had a long talk. He was very personable, but underneath it all he was extremely angry. While I don’t support his racist views or voting intentions in any way, I can understand his anger. Outside the narrow political circles where exchanging bon mots over the dispatch box is still seen as a valuable use of taxpayer’s money, mainstream political parties, including mine, have managed to alienate and sideline virtually the whole country. In my constituency, voters aren’t angry about the expenses scandal, they are just bloody angry, and expenses are simply the last straw. As far as I can tell, the new BNP voters are really at breaking point, and are lashing out, trying to kick the mainstream politicians where it hurts the most.
If Gordon Brown and David Cameron think they can fix this with a few sticking plaster reforms, they need to think again. Nothing short of a constitutional revolution will do.