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Since 1925 UCLA has honored its most distinguished scholars by selecting them to deliver this special annual lecture. By honoring them in this way, members of the academic community have an opportunity to appreciate these scholars' achievements in a way they may not have otherwise had.

110th Faculty Research Lecture

Who Owns Music and Why Should You Care?

Anthony Seeger,
Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology and
Director of the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive

April 5, 2011


"This Land is Your Land"
UCLA Bluegrass and Old-Time String Ensemble

This land is Your Land

Anthony Seeger, Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology and Director of the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive, will impart some of his considerable musical knowledge, and also a song, when he delivers the prestigious 110th Faculty Research Lecture, titled, "Who Owns Music and Why You Should Care."

"The interesting thing about copyright is that a lot of people know something about it — if only that they might get sued by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) for downloading," Seeger said. "But most people have a very particular perspective on it, and I want to broaden their understanding of the issues involved."

Although Seeger has been surrounded by music his entire life, his grandfather is pioneering ethnomusicologist/composer Charles Seeger, and his aunt and uncles are world-renowned folk singers Peggy, Mike and Pete Seeger, he recalled feeling little pressure to go into the family business.

The encouragement to perform "mostly came from outside — people assuming that every Seeger could take over a stage and do something on it," Seeger said. "I was happy enough to oblige. I started playing when I was about 12, I think. I hit my peak when I was in boarding school at the Putney School in Vermont."
While in graduate school at the University of Chicago, Seeger began to study the relationship between music and culture in a non-capitalist society. For his research subjects, he chose the Suyá/Kisêdjê Indians of Brazil. Soon he and his wife, Judith — who was working on her Ph.D. in romance languages — found themselves in Brazil. They lived there for nearly 10 years; for seven of them, Seeger served as an associate professor of anthropology at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Seeger went on to co-found the Ethnomusicology/Musicology/Music Therapy M.A. program at the Brazilian Conservatory of Music. But as much as he and Judith loved Brazil — their two daughters, Elizabeth Mapalu and Hileia Katherine, were born there — Seeger moved his family back to the United States when he received a postdoctoral fellowship at Indiana University in 1980. He was hired there two years later to teach anthropology and ethnomusicology and to direct the Indiana Archives of Traditional Music, where he learned the importance of copyrights.

Eight years later — just as he and his wife were considering returning to Brazil — Seeger was heavily recruited for a position at the Smithsonian Institution as curator and director of Folkways Records. In what was probably the only example of family pressure, one of Seeger’s relatives told him, "Tony, the family thinks you would be perfect for this job." So Seeger left Indiana and went to the Smithsonian, where he set up and ran a record label from 1988 to 2000. While there, he oversaw the production of more than 250 CDs and published some important articles on audiovisual archiving, intellectual property and ethics.

Seeger has been a member of the UCLA faculty since 2000 and currently teaches various undergraduate and graduate courses on the music industry and on the anthropology of music, among other subjects.

When he delivers his Faculty Research Lecture on April 5, Seeger said he will begin with — what else? — a song. He will step back from the opposing positions of "Don’t pirate my music" and "Knowledge wants to be free" to discuss the more general point that copyright law is only one way among thousands that societies regulate the transmission of and access to knowledge.

"I hope everyone comes away with a greater appreciation of the complex issues involved in music copyright, and that they will know a new song," Seeger said. "If they come early and stay for the reception, they can also take away the emotions aroused by lively music performed by the UCLA Bluegrass and Old-Time String Band!"

From Wendy Soderburg, UCLA Today

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