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8:32am on Tuesday, 6th February, 2007:
The recent acquisition by The Sun of a cockpit video showing a friendly fire incident raises a few questions. Given that it appears to show that the American pilots were acting in good faith when they blew up a convoy in which Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull was travelling (killing him), it would seem to be in their interests (if not the people who told them the area was clear of allies) for the truth to come out. If there's anything sensitive in the HUD that the video shows, then either a soundtrack or a transcript would have been sufficient for the coroner to deliver a verdict. Why, then, was this information not released by the US military?
Well there's a chance it was a deliberate leak, of course, in order to get round some otherwise inflexible protocol. Assuming that The Sun did get hold of the video against the wishes of the US military, though, on what basis were they allowed to publish transcripts? And how come I was able to watch fragments of it on the TV news this morning?
I'm guessing that it's some kind of "public interest" defence, which is what is normally invoked in such matters. Of course, that doesn't mean the person who passed on the video will keep their job, but it may well save them from a jail sentence. Yet the fact remains, this video is actually the intellectual property of the US military, and was released without their permission. It may be "fair use", but it's still theirs.
It doesn't work this way with other forms of property. If the country needs a new road, the government doesn't just send in the builders and then respond to the complaints of people whose land it crosses by saying that it's in the public interest to have a road there: they have to demonstrate an overwhelming case beforehand, and then pay fair market price for the property before they can build the road. Yet in cases where intellectual property is leaked, any argument occurs after the event and there's no settlement fee for the "compulsory purchase". If it turns out that it wasn't in the public interest after all, the damage is done. The US military was perfectly within its rights to withhold that tape — it was breaking no laws in doing so. Yet now, it finds itself having to spend several million dollars changing the systems on its tank-busters because the video shows information in the HUD that could be useful to an enemy. If the public is that interested, shouldn't the public have to pay for its interest, as it does with roads?
In the first Iraq war, the Americans killed more British soldiers than the Iraqis did.
Referenced by Copyright Peculiarity.
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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (firstname.lastname@example.org).