Who owns the music?
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Several months after
the recording's release, the Suya chief visited Seeger at his home
in Rio de Janeiro. Turning on the television, "we heard, to
our immense surprise, a Suya song played behind an advertisement"
a usage for which the Suya were neither asked permission
nor paid. "I looked at the chief with considerable concern,"
Seeger recalls. "He grinned and said, 'It's beautiful, everyone
is hearing our music.' "
chief may have been pleased, but Seeger was profoundly disturbed
by the incident and its broader implications.
wondered at the freedom Brazilian television felt to use this group's
recordings as background music," he says, "a policy that
would be rigorously policed if the music were performed by a commercial
artist in the United States but which can't be policed when it is
only performed by the best living Suya musicians."
one is left to ask: Who owns the music?
is a question that looms large in this era of the Internet, when
file-exchange technologies like Napster and Morpheus have made it
possible to pull music copyrighted or not straight
off a computer. And it is a question that looms large for ethnomusicologists
like Seeger, those scholars who are devoted to understanding the
meaning and structure of music as cultural and intercultural phenomena,
who often find themselves in the role of guardian of that musical
are in the midst of an intellectual-property gold rush," says
Seeger. "Thousands of fortune seekers are trying to stake their
claims to promising territory, existing claims holders are seeking
increasingly aggressive means of defending their claims and the
original owners are often being ignored."