Copyright, Curation, and Representation:  Zora Neale Hurston, John Lomax, and Visions of Black Culture

Olufunmilayo Arewa
March 12, 2021 | 10:00am EST | 15:00pm

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Professor Arewa will present a chapter from her forthcoming book, Creating Global Markets for Black Music: Curation, Music and Law. Folklorist John Lomax was a powerful curator of African American culture who illustrates the interaction of curation and copyright. Lomax viewed African American culture in part as a vehicle for exploitation and personal profit. His copyright dispute with Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), evidences exploitative uses of African American culture. Lomax’s views of black culture were rooted in a museum-like approach, which was not atypical for a folklorist of his era, that sought to collect, profit from, and preserve “authentic” vanishing cultural forms. In contrast, folklorist and writer Zora Neale Hurston had a conception of African American culture that reflected an understanding of culture as a living and dynamic force. The competing visions of Lomax and Hurston have implications outside of the cultural sphere. Dominant conceptions of copyright today may be based on a view of culture that reflects the Lomax vision but which does not sufficiently take account of living cultures and varied cultural communities. This may facilitate exploitation, particularly of cultural production of marginalized communities, and give insufficient recognition to the broad range of creativities that may exist.

About the Author

Funmi Arewa

Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Arewa’s major areas of scholarly research include music, business, entrepreneurship, technology, copyright, film, and Africana studies. Prior to becoming a law professor, Professor Arewa practiced law for nearly a decade, working in legal and business positions primarily in the entrepreneurial and technology startup arena, including law firms and companies in the Silicon Valley and New York. She served as Vice-Chair of the Nigeria Copyright Expert Working Group. In addition to her book on African American music, Professor Arewa is also currently writing a book on technology disruption in Africa. She received an M.A. and Ph.D. (Anthropology) from the University of California, Berkeley, an A.M. (Applied Economics) from the University of Michigan, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an A.B. from Harvard College