Treating Creative Black Intellectual Property Ownership as a Human Right

36 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2020

Date Written: July 6, 2020


This article argues that the ownership of African American (sometimes also called "black") creative work BY African Americans who are the descendants of slaves in the US should be considered a human right under US copyright law. Particular focus will be on how this work has been taken, appropriated and rebranded for profit without the permission of its original creators, and how a more expansive interpretation of US copyright law incorporating :

1) human rights law principles of dignity and bodily autonomy,

2) moral rights principles found in the Berne Union Treaty, and

3) Indigenous Community collective rights' approaches to cultural heritage can counter this tendency and redress past wrongs.

I will illustrate how these concepts might work by applying them to two recent copyright law disputes in the US involving revered gospel preacher and performer, Shirley Caesar, and popular rap artist J Milly.

Note: Readers and others who download this paper should only use it for nonprofit research and teaching purposes, not alter or change it in any manner, and give attribution to the author if you quote from it. Please contact the author if you prefer other uses.

Keywords: Black Creativity, African American Creativity, Arts, Slavery, Racism, Reparations, Copyright Law, Human Rights, Inequality, Indigenous Rights, United Nations, Moral Rights, Berne Union, Fair Use

Suggested Citation

Lester, Toni, Treating Creative Black Intellectual Property Ownership as a Human Right (July 6, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

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