By Ray O’Hanlon
Pump ya fist if ya love . . . international copyright law.
Black 47 co-founder and Irish American rapper Chris Byrne is suing the British Broadcasting Corporation for $5 million over the use of his song "Fenians" in a television documentary that focused on the Florida gun-running case presently before a court in Fort Lauderdale.
Byrne has brought his case against the BBC in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
The case stems from a broadcasting of the BBC Northern Ireland "Spotlight" news documentary program in October of last year.
At one point in the program, Byrne’s "Fenians" was played for three minutes over a series of images of New York.
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The case before the federal court alleges that the BBC misappropriated Byrne’s copyrighted musical recording without license or permission.
Byrne’s suit also argues that the legal issue goes deeper than just violation of standard copyright.
"By taking Byrne’s instantly recognizable voice and musical work, the BBC has caused Byrne to be unwillingly associated with a British media company and an anti-Irish message, both of which Byrne has long opposed," Byrne’s attorneys stated in a press release announcing the legal action.
Byrne has been a consistent critic of the British presence and policies in Northern Ireland. "Fenians," which opens with the line "Pump ya fist if ya love freedom," also includes the chorus line "unrepentant Fenian bastard."
Byrne, in the press statement, accused the BBC of waging a "long propaganda war" against those who opposed British policy in Northern Ireland.
"The BBC stole both my work and my reputation to service their theory that Irish republicans are fundamentally dishonest. My work has always had at its core the belief that the Irish people have the right to self-determination and independence from British interference," Byrne, who is a former officer with the NYPD, said.
"The BBC is a government-controlled institution that supports the aims and interests of the British state, including its undemocratic control over Northern Ireland. The BBC would not have had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a license from me, even if they had the decency to go about it legally.
"My political beliefs are central to who I am, and the BBC’s theft of my work for the purposes of anti-Irish disinformation is a grave infringement of my artistic rights."
The statement accompanying the legal papers filed in federal court sets out a series of additional allegations against the BBC that will be raised in court by attorney Russell Smith, who is also representing "Committee" author Sean McPhilemy in a pending libel case in Washington, D.C.
The suit accuses the BBC of supporting a British government policy that is allegedly fighting "not just a military war but a propaganda war" in Northern Ireland.
The suit accuses the BBC of "consciously" ignoring Catholic grievances in the North "throughout the conflict" and states that the BBC "lied to the world" about the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Derry.
"The BBC has censored countless programs which challenge British policy in the north of Ireland, and even banned the song ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’ by former Beatle Paul McCartney," the statement said.
Byrne, who also goes by a hip-hop stage name, "Seanchai," alleges that by associating him with its message, the BBC has placed him in a position of having to defend his character and integrity.
"After everything I’ve stood for, after all the benefits and the protests, it now appears to my compatriots and my fans that Seanchai has sold out. There is none so low in the opinion of Irish republicans as he who takes the sovereign coin to betray his people. The damage done to my reputation is incalculable," Byrne said.
The "Spotlight" program was aired Oct. 5, 1999. Byrne’s suit alleges that it was designed to show that the alleged gun-running activities of a group of Irish nationals in Florida was proof that the present IRA cease-fire was bogus.
Four Irish nationals were arrested in the Florida case, which is due to go to trial next week.
Byrne’s suit further alleges that the "Spotlight" broadcast occurred at a time when extremely delicate peace talks were under way in Northern Ireland and that the program "bolstered" the demands of "pro-British politicians" that Irish republicans be excluded from those negotiations.
"Byrne’s music was synchronized over a series of images of New York landmarks with a view to enhancing the show’s composition and message," the statement accompanying suit stated.
Attorney Smith told the Echo Tuesday that while the BBC had acknowledged receipt of notice to sue, no substantive reply had yet been received from the corporation.
The suit alleges violation of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, in addition to several foreign and international copyright statutes, including the United Kingdom’s Copyright, Design and Patent Act of 1988, the Universal Copyright Convention and the Berne Convention for the protection of Literary and Artistic Works.