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Who Owns an Interpretation?

Legal and Symbolic Ownership of Norwegian Folk Music


The article examines discourses of legal and symbolic ownership in Norwegian folk music. The point of departure is a growing tension between different conceptions of musical property rights: one centered on cultivating a shared heritage of musical style (the tradition); the other based on notions of artistic autonomy, individual rights, and legal ownership (copyright). By means of a case study documenting the use of a traditional song in popular music production, the analysis highlights the incompatibility between market and symbolic economies and explores questions of agency and authorship that pertain to the ongoing debate over “unauthorized” usage of traditional materials.