Recording Artists, Work for Hire, Employment, and Appropriation
47 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2008
Date Written: October 23, 2008
Authorship and ownership exist in a curious relation in U.S. copyright law. In theory and common sense, authorship underwrites and is the condition of ownership, but in practice ownership can establish authorship retroactively. Distinctions between proprietary and non-proprietary creative cultural workers, in this view, turn in no essential way on evidence of creativity or the investment of personality in cultural creation. This paper examines a legislative struggle between recording artists and the recording industry over the status of their stock-in-trade, sound recordings. In 2000, recording artists obtained the repeal of a 1999 law allocating authorship and ownership of recordings to their record company contractors through the former's assertions not of authorship in the commonsense understanding, but through the artists' legal ability to alienate their employed backup musicians, engineers and other creative personnel. Analyzing this struggle against the backdrop of a historical/theoretical consideration of the dynamics of domination and dispossession naturalized in the employment relationship, I show how the political-economic organization of creative production in the cultural industries depends crucially on and further naturalizes this legal furniture of the social world (Ellerman, 1992), as much or more than it does on immanent aspects of cultural products or production processes.
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