Lomax Jukebox Going Digital Is Great News... But Let's Not Forget That He Claimed Copyright On Cultural Works That Weren't His
from the copyfraud dept
The article talks about how he had a "utopian" vision in making this music available:
“Alan was doubly utopian, in that he was imagining something like the Internet based on the fact he had all this data and a set of parameters he thought of as predictive,” John Szwed, a Columbia University music professor and the author of “Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World,” a biography published in 2010, told The Times. “But he was also saying that the whole world can have all this data too, and it can be done in such a way that you can take it home.”Now, to be clear, all of this is great, but I do wonder about some of the copyright questions here. Last year, we wrote about the bizarre and convoluted story of how Lomax is credited as a songwriter on a Jay-Z song. Apparently, when he recorded these random folk songs around the globe, he claimed copyrights on the works. This is, of course, questionable. At best, he might have a claim on a copyright to the sound recording only, though even that might be questioned, as his creative input into the recording likely would not be enough to qualify for copyright. The copyright, if any exists, would likely belong to the singers (and possibly whoever wrote the songs, though it's likely that many were simply passed down over time).
And yet, Lomax put a copyright claim on the works, including a recording he did of the traditional work song, "Rosie," recorded by Lomax at Parchman Farm, sung by convicts there. That song became the basis of a song by the Animals -- who didn't use the actual recording. Grand Funk Railroad then covered the song (again, not using the actual recording, but starting from scratch). However, Lomax was still credited as a songwriter, despite having nothing to do with it. KRS-One then sampled a guitar riff (having absolutely nothing to do with the original "Rosie") in a song... which Jay-Z then sampled in his song, "Takeover." Lomax's singular contribution was recording "Rosie," a traditional song which almost certainly was public domain. Even if Lomax could claim a copyright on his recording (still questionable), he had no songwriting credit... yet that's what it morphed into... and then stuck on songs going forward.
Perhaps the copyfraud achieved here created songwriting royalties that are now allowing the financing of this great digital jukebox... but it still makes me wonder just what the copyright setup will be of this jukebox. The folks behind it suggest that they'll be quite permissive, especially for non-profit usage, but it still makes you wonder about whether or not even that level of control is warranted.