Music Department Colloquium: David Fossum—“What’s an Arrangement Worth?: Copyright, Folk Music, and the Value of Creativity in Turkey”

Thursday, November 9, 2023 at 4:30pm
Boger Hall, Room 112, 41 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown


Copyright is supposed to reward creators for their creativity. Yet there are no clear criteria for measuring the value of this creativity or how creative a work is. Drawing on a case study from his book manuscript in progress, Copyright Consciousness: Musical Creativity and Intellectual Property in TurkeyDave Fossum's talk links implicit criteria of creative value to a larger history of nation-building. 

The launching point for Fossum's inquiry is a policy, idiosyncratic to Turkey’s two copyright collecting societies for musical authors, according to which arrangers of anonymous folk music were long offered only a limited (10%) royalty on sales and performances of their arrangements (whereas a 100% royalty is common in most jurisdictions). While some arrangers complained about this policy, his ethnographic data reveal that many musicians found it natural. Through analyses of a range of arrangements of folk tunes and songs, he highlights the forms of creative agency often erased by this widespread tendency to minimize their originality. He identifies several factors that might account for this tendency, including the conflicting interests of actors in the industry, legal doctrine specific to Turkey, and bureaucratic convenience, but none of these explain the policy as well as a fourth factor: widely internalized folkloristic ideologies that locate creative agency primarily in a romanticized vision of the nation’s past. The stakes of this finding transcend a normative critique of the policy itself. Rather, his analysis highlights how Turkey’s history of nationalist cultural reformism gets reinscribed into copyright, an ostensibly identity-blind cultural policy regime whose arbiters constantly strive to harmonize it with international practice.

Dave Fossum is an Assistant Professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University. Combining extensive ethnographic fieldwork and archival research, he studies ideas about creativity and intellectual property, focusing particularly on music in Turkey and Central Asia. He has received fellowships and grants from Brown University, the University of Pittsburgh, the American Research Institute in Turkey, and the Reed Foundation. He has published articles in Ethnomusicology, Ethnomusicology Forum, Asian Music, and Analytical Approaches to World Music. His book manuscript-in-progress, Copyright Consciousness: Musical Creativity and Intellectual Property in Turkey, ethnographically documents how stakeholders make sense of and respond to the music copyright system’s purported failures and perceived injustices, often by integrating their experiences into larger narratives about Turkish society, the nature and value of musical creativity, or the histories of national genres.