Copying, copyright and originality: Imitation, transformation and popular musicians

Keith Negus, John Street, Adam Behr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


With copyright becoming ever more important for business and government, this article argues for a more nuanced understanding of the practices and values associated with copying in popular music culture and advocates a more critical approach to notions of originality. Drawing from interviews with working musicians this article challenges the approaches to copying and popular music that pitch corporate notions of piracy against creative sharing by citizens. It explores differing approaches to the circulation of recordings and identifies three distinct types of creative copying: i) learning through imitation, ii) copying as transformation, iii) copying for commercial opportunity. The article then considers how copying is caught between a commercial necessity for familiar musical products that must conform to existing expectations and a copyright legislative rationale requiring original sounds with individual owners. The article highlights how legacies from a long history of human copying as a means of acquiring knowledge and skills leads to a collision of creative musical practices, commercial imperatives and copyright regulation and results in a series of unavoidable tensions around originality and copying that are a central characteristic of cultural production.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-380
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number4
Early online date14 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • Copying
  • copyright
  • musicians
  • originality
  • recording industry

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