What do you value most about your voice?
As ethnomusicological studies of the voice expand, so must our understanding of
what voice even means. Voice must entail more than just a sonic phenomenon, but must
also relate to ideology, to our very identity, even. This thesis will fuse
ethnomusicological and legal perspectives to explore how American and, to a lesser
extent, international copyright law and other legal mechanisms protect more than just a
musician's economic interest, but also his very identity. I will explore the right of
publicity and the concept of moral rights and how they relate to voice and identity. The
right of publicity is a musician's right to protect his identity as well as his copyrighted
works while moral rights is the right of a musician to prevent certain uses of his work
even when he has assigned the copyright of that work to another. This thesis will suggest
a theoretical framework for investigating the voice as an intangible legal marker of
I argue that the voice protected by law is positioned as both sonic and
metaphorical agent and encompasses not only the act of vocalization, but inaction as
well. In my model, the positive voice is the manner in which we express our ideology by
speech or by action. It requires affirmative action and intent on the musician's part. The
negative voice, however, is the idea that we can also speak loudly through our silence.
Sometimes silence is merely the absence of sound, but sometimes it reflects an ideological stance on a particular issue. Sometimes we are given the opportunity to
affirmatively act, but we choose not to in order to communicate our opposition to a
concept, decision, course of action, or some other ideological position. These
“statements” are every bit as vital to a musician's identity and integrity as their
affirmative actions are. One example of this concept is demonstrated in Tom Waits'
lawsuit against Frito-Lay. In that case, a Waits sound-alike was used in a commercial,
which led people to believe Waits himself was endorsing the product. Waits, however,
had a long-standing and very public opposition to musicians endorsing products. The
association created by the commercials impugned his credibility by casting doubt upon
his negative voice.
This thesis will examine where copyright law protects identity and where it falls
short and how the right of publicity fills in the gaps to provide comprehensive protection
for a musician's voice in the broadest sense. It will provide a background on the scope of
copyright law, as well as how it has historically developed to protect more than just
work-product, but also the musician's very identity. It will then explore the right of
publicity and moral rights and how those ideas fit into the general legal scheme of
copyright protection. I will accomplish this through interviews with musicians, as well as
explorations of current scholarly work on identity, copyright, voice, the right of publicity,
and moral rights. I will also explore important legal cases and relevant statutes in these
areas, such as Tom Waits v. Frito-Lay, Bette Midler v. Ford Motor Company and the
Copyright Act of 1976. These explorations can help us understand how musicians can
protect their identity by protecting their ideological, as well as their physical, voices.