I Own Therefore I Am: Copyright, Personality, and Soul Music in the Digital Commons
70 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2009
Date Written: August 26, 2009
I Own Therefore I Am: Copyright, Personality, and Soul Music in the Digital Commons, explores the quandary of contemporary copyright reform from the position of the musical author. The analysis begins with recognition of an often-ignored fact about American music copyright law: It rarely protects musical authors very well. Instead, it has primarily benefited music publishers, record companies and others to the detriment of musicians. This contradiction in the ideal of Romantic authorship was justified doctrinally by the elevation of the author’s economic interest over her personality interest and demonstrated by the history of African-American musical authorship from spirituals to hip hop. The disappearance of the author’s personality interest coincided historically with the exploitation of musicians’ ownership rights and the rise of economic intermediaries. Nowhere is this clearer than in the methods used against black authors, who constituted canaries in the copyright coalmine. Their responses to both economic and appropriative harms help to define the contours of a personality interest in musical authorship. The legal historical analysis is background to the Article’s ultimate goal in examining how technological changes in the creation, reproduction and dissemination of contemporary music have re-shaped music authorship for copyright purposes. In short, digital distribution has made creative independence possible for a broader range of music authors and diminished the power of intermediaries. Technology has facilitated the reconciliation of an author’s personality and utility interests. In order to evaluate a contemporary music author’s choices against some of the salient law reform regimes offered by law professors, I use the real-life example of a current singer-songwriter, Citizen Cope (Clarence Greenwood), who is on the verge of becoming independent after releasing three CDs with record labels. My legal conclusion is that, despite interesting and helpful aspects of all four proposals considered, the contemporary music author willing to produce herself may be content — finally — with copyright’s status quo.
Keywords: intellectual property, copyright law, entertainment, music, digital music
JEL Classification: O34, L82
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation