Joanna Demers. 2006. Steal This Music:
How Intellectual Property Law Affects
Musical Creativity. Athens and London:
University of Georgia Press.
Perry A. Hall, “African-American
Music: Dynamics of Appropriation and
Innovation,” in Borrowed Power: Essays on
Cultural Appropriation 31–51 (Bruce Ziff
& Pratima V. Rao eds., 1997)
Siva Vaidhyanathan. 2001. Copyrights
and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual
Property and How It Threatens Creativity.
OLUFUNMILAYO B. AREWA is a professor of law and anthropolgy at the University of California, Irvine. Her research
focuses on issues related to culture, law, and business, with an emphasis on music, film, technology, and Africana studies. She
recently received a German Academic Exchange Service Faculty Visit Research Grant for a research project on jazz in Germany.
Arewa has studied classical voice for a number of years. Her book Creating Global Markets for African American Music: Curation,
Music, and Law is forthcoming.
also give evidence to appropriation, as was a particular feature of white British rock
‘n’ roll borrowing from African American blues artists from the American South.
The dissemination of African American-influenced music forms after the end
of slavery in the United States exemplifies uses of culture in contexts of
oppression, violence, and hatred. After slavery, African American music forms
diffused with the migration of former slaves away from plantations in the
nineteenth century. Traveling gospel groups facilitated the dissemination of
this music, including the Fisk Jubilee Singers, which made their first overseas
tour in the 1870s. The diffusion of African American music was aided by the
widespread adoption of recording technologies in early twentieth century,
which enabled listeners who did not hear the music live to experience it.
Twentieth-century population movements, including the Great Migration
of African Americans from the southern United States to northern industrial
cities, also facilitated the spread of African American musical forms.
Early collectors of slave songs highlighted how distinctive they found the
music they heard. Today’s listeners find African American-influenced music less
distinctive because our ears have changed significantly over the past 150 years as
African American music went from being the music of oppressed former slaves to a
core language of global music creation and performance. The increasing dominance
of African American-influenced music during the course of the twentieth century
should not obscure the contexts of profound oppression, violence, and
inequality that have shaped experiences of African Americans for much of
American history. The initial diffusion of such musical forms in the early
twentieth century, for example, occurred during periods of extreme violence
and hatred in the United States. Further, acts of borrowing of African American
culture, as evident in minstrelsy, often reflected derogatory attitudes shaped by
this oppressive environment.
BORROWING, APPROPRIATION, AND DIGITAL WORLDS
Today we live in a reality where digital worlds give us instantaneous access to a
global range of cultural elements that we can use in varied ways. This abundance
of cultural resources should be used with understanding, respect, and insight.
Endemic acts of borrowing occur in broader contexts that must not be ignored.
Although uses of unknown or unfamiliar cultural elements should not require
a deep cultural excavation, users of such elements should gain familiarity with
contexts of uses and their power dynamics and likely meanings for insiders and
outsiders. Ongoing dialog with a broader community of those with an interest
and experience in similar things also might be beneficial. Such dialogue can be
an important starting point to develop ways to negotiate thorny terrains of