Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Decolonizing Copyright Law: Learning from the Jamaican Street Dance


In this ethnographic study I examine the significance of music-making in Jamaican society in the light of the increasing interpenetration of law and technology with cultural practices. I center the local institution of the "street dance" as the heart of Jamaicans' musical practices. Grounded in a historical analysis of musicking - the active practice of engaging with music - in Jamaica and in the Jamaican diaspora, this study reveals how Jamaica's colonial past and present shapes musicking's cultural, political and economic significance in Jamaican life. Most specifically, Jamaican music-makers' collaborative and repetitive practices, that draw on and reinforce shared cultural history, contradict current local and international copyright law.

Copyright law relies on historically and culturally specific assumptions about the practice of creativity, and requires specific institutional context in order to function. But what relation do those assumptions and institutions have to the interests and traditions of music-makers? And how does that relationship change in the context of increasingly globalized copyright law that is increasingly and intimately enforced through globally networked technology?

Through social history and ethnographic data generated by interviews, participant-observation, musical analysis, I reveal how Jamaican musicking practices are creative, productive, and rewarding for individual Jamaicans as well as for communities. I focus especially on the Jamaican poor who dominate Jamaican musical authorship, and who rely on alternate normative systems that shape both their creative practices and their understandings of ownership, control, and the distribution of money deriving from music. I map Jamaican music-makers' engagement, resistance, and reinterpretation of copyright law concepts, and provide an analysis of music-making that reveals how copyright is informed by colonial assumptions that Jamaican practices can sometimes resist and subvert. Drawing on the impressive cultural contributions of Jamaican music-makers to Jamaican and global music culture, which derives from their specific practices (including those that contradict copyright), I offer a critique of copyright informed by a concern for substantive equality, centered on the needs of the Jamaican poor who dominate music-making and offer a corrective theoretical framework for analyzing policy and music-making in the digital era.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View