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Summer 2002
Who owns the music?
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With the growing popularity of world music, UCLA's role in safeguarding the cultural patrimony of indigenous peoples is more significant than ever before

By Judy Lin-Eftekhar
Photography by Gerard Vuilleumier

HERE'S THE PROBLEM: NO ONE — AT LEAST NO ONE WITH ANY REAL SENSE OF ETHICAL VALUES AND AN ELEMENTAL UNDERSTANDING OF CURRENT COPYRIGHT LAW — WOULD THINK TO SIMPLY LIFT A SONG BY, SAY, THE BEATLES AND SLAP IT INTO AN ADVERTISEMENT OR OTHERWISE RECORD IT WITHOUT CREDITING JOHN LENNON OR PAUL MCCARTNEY AND PAYING FOR THE USAGE. BUT, SOMEHOW, SUCH ETHICS DON'T ALWAYS SEEM TO APPLY WHEN IT COMES TO USING THE INDIGENOUS MUSIC OF NATIVE PEOPLES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

Take, for example, an incident witnessed by Professor Anthony Seeger of the School of the Arts and Architecture's Department of Ethnomusicology. Some 20 years ago, when Seeger was affiliated with the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, he spent much of his time lugging a reel-to-reel tape recorder through the jungles of the Brazilian Amazon to document for scholarly study and safekeeping in the museum's archive the music — every note, every word, every nuance — of some of the peoples who lived there.

At the request of one of those peoples, the Suya Indians, Seeger helped to produce a commercial recording of their music. But he insisted that the cover of the recording, Musica Indigena: A Arte Vocal Dos Suya (Indian Music: The Vocal Art of the Suya), carry a statement in large capital letters: "This recording was made with the knowledge and approval of the Suya. The selections are artistic productions of this society. Royalties will be forwarded to the community, and must be paid. The unauthorized use of these recordings is prohibited not only by law, but by the moral force against the exploitation of these artists."

"It didn't work," Seeger laments.

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