Bernard Woma case in Digital Democracy class

Up for debate today in the Digital Democracy
class on Indigenous Knowledge and IP law at HLS: Is it wrong for Avant Records to distribute for
profit in the United States the allegedly pirated sound
recording “Live at the Pito Bar,”
performed by Bernard Woma
in Ghana?  The case gets to lots of
complex cross-border intellectual property questions, problems
associated with implied licenses, and the challenge of protecting
cultural heritage in the Internet era.  Did the ethnomusicologist
who made this field recording, apparently with approval to use the
recording for academic purposes, do wrong by Mr. Woma, the master of
the Ghanaian Xylophone?  How should disputes of this sort be
resolved, and by whom?

14 thoughts on “Bernard Woma case in Digital Democracy class

  1. I believe it is not only wrong but illegal for Avant Records to distribute this recording. Bernard Woma invited Mark Seidenfeld, the “ethnomusicologist” involved, to a live performance at a Pito bar in Ghana. Mark asked if he could make a recording for his own personal purposes, and so it was quite a shock when Bernard found a CD of his music for sale a year later.

    The recording was done without Bernard’s approval, it is apparently was done poorly, and Bernard has not seen a penny of the income from it. Now that he has just released his first approved live CD, his potential customers will be confused or mislead by the unapproved CD.

    Ideally, Avant should recall this CD, and delete any reference of it on the web and should pay Bernard for damages and give him 100% of the income they received. They should apologise to him and do their best to support his new CD. If they don’t do this volintarily, a Japanese, US or Ghanian court should force them to do this.

    This issue not only damages Bernard, it also creates distrust between “indigenous” performers and anyone who wants to record them. I think it is imperitive for people who care about the rights of artists from all over the world to protest Avant Records.

    Raul Rothblatt

  2. I am stunned by the racist assumptions of this discussion question for “debate” at Harvard Law School.

    To paraphrase your question: do African or other “indigenous” artists have any legal rights to their intellectual property, or can they just be exploited while we ponder whether they have “implied licenses” and ponder the “challenge of protecting [their] cultural heritage”?

    Mr. Woma is a world-class artist who travels to Europe and the U.S. regularly to perform. He has his own legal CD’s for sale on and

    Would Harvard Law School host a discussion of whether Bruce Springsteen or Luciano Pavoratti have a legal claim against a bootleg recording being brazenly sold in a record store?

    The only legal issue in the case is establishing the alleged lack of contractual agreement with the artist.

    Harvard’s “Digital Democracy” class might do better to address the relevant POLITICAL issues: how are less politically powerful groups (Africans, people of color, independent artists) more vulnerable to economic exploitation by digital commerce? And how are they still assumed to not be full participants, or owed the same rights, in global law?

    Sincerely, David Rogers

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