COPYRIGHT AND AFRICAN AMERICA CULTURE:
CREATIVITY, INNOVATION, AND POPULAR MUSIC
OLUFUNMILAYO B. AREWA
Professor of Law and Anthropology
University of California, Irvine
By the end of the twentieth century, African American based musics had become a leading source of musical innovation and creativity and dominant influence on global popular music expression. The ascendancy of African American music in the popular music arena has significant implications for copyright and copyright’s goals. African American musical forms have historically tended to be based on improvisatory principles that, among other things, incorporate musical innovation in performance. From the time of its origin, copyright law has consistently undervalued the art of performance while favoring written musical expression. This devaluation of performance has had a profound impact on African American based musical forms. Although the focus on writings reflects the origins of copyright law in an era when sound recording technologies were not broadly available, the orientation of copyright has important continuing implications for African American music. Further, although the promotion of creativity is one of the core goals of copyright, copyright has not always appropriately rewarded creativity in the realm of African American music. How copyright has confronted emerging and innovative African American musical forms requires attention to contexts of musical creation and dissemination and involves assessment of both business and legal institutions. This article will consider the operation of copyright in contexts of African American based musics. It will use such contexts to assess how copyright has dealt with creativity and innovation in specific arenas of cultural expression.