No Credit Where Credit Is Due: Exploitation in Copyright

No Credit Where Credit Is Due: Exploitation in Copyright

Gia Velasquez

Alan Lomax, a folklorist and twentieth-century field collector of music, has been credited as “unlock[ing] the secrets of this kind of music” by Bob Dylan, “the man who is more responsible than any other person for the twentieth century folk song revival” by Pete Seeger, and “a man who stood for the equity of people’s culture.” He has not, however, been described as a copyist or plagiarist. Some may baffle at this suggestion: surely his contributions to music, evidenced by his posthumous Grammy Trustees Award in 2003 and National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan in 1986, free him from the purview of such negative connotations.

The purpose of this paper is not to discredit Lomax, nor to criticize his methodology. Without his research, music of groups such as cowboys, convicts, slaves, workers on American railways, and creoles would have likely been lost. Rather, this paper is meant to highlight some of the many occasions where original artists have not received credit for their works. These stories are known due to technological developments that increase the accessibility of art, such as Lomax’s, but some have inevitably been lost.

Part I begins with the history of Alan Lomax’s music collections and discusses an example of how his recordings have caused a chain of issues in musical copyrights. Part I concludes with illustrations showcasing the lack of credit and copyright problems for musicians in recent history. Part II highlights the custom of attribution in choreography and discusses major obstacles facing dancers imposed not only by well-known artists, but also digital media. Part III proposes some corrections to the system and how to give proper credit to lesser-known, commonly exploited group artists. In conclusion, I propose that for works completed by indigenous, underprivileged groups, extralegal norms offer a superior alternative compared to the U.S. copyright system.

99 J. Pat. & Trademark Off. Soc’y 693(2017)

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