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Summer 2002
Who owns the music?
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Who owns the music is a question of particular concern to archivist Louise Spear of UCLA's Ethnomusicology Archive, a collection of some 10,000 field recordings by hundreds of researchers and collectors. The archive's recordings don't leave the building; they may only be listened to in the facility and may not be duplicated without the explicit permission of the musician or collector.

"One of the questions I hear all the time," says Spear, "is, 'What good is it if I can't copy it?' There is an assumption that if the music exists, anyone and everyone has a right to have it."

Dealing with representatives of Hollywood television or movie productions can often prove particularly challenging. "They come in with requests like, 'We're doing a movie that takes place in Africa, and we want authentic Pygmy music. Give me something that's not copyrighted so that I can use it quickly and easily and cheaply for my movie.' "

But, Spear asserts, it simply doesn't work that way. Rather, "they need to contact the collector, ask for permission and work out an agreement." And in many cases such requests are impossible to fill under any circumstance; some pieces of music in the collection are of a religious nature and are meant to only be listened to in an appropriate context, for example, and some are pieces that are intended to be heard only by women.

The popular notion that anything "ethnic" is up for grabs — anything that might fall within the categories of so-called world music or roots music — also is proving to be a problem for scholarly researchers, Seeger says. "I'm concerned by the growing perception among indigenous people that 'someone is getting rich on our music.' It is becoming harder to be an ethnomusicologist with a tape recorder today than it used to be because people are always suspicious, even when we have no commercial intentions."

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