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Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association

Volume 19, Number 1 (2019)

Jason Lee Guthrie
Clayton State University


This article explores Stephen Foster’s understanding and use of copyright. It examines what his copyright strategy can reveal about his professionalism as a songwriter and about his worldview as an important influencer of early American popular culture. It adapts the anthropological theory of ritual economy to theorize how Foster’s economic decision making, as revealed in copyright and related business records, can offer material evidence of his worldview. Foster’s failure to secure copyrights for his early work, to establish himself as the author of his most popular songs to the music buying public, and to capitalize upon favorable songwriting contracts are considered. These sources may also illuminate how the precedent Foster set has shaped the discourse on professionalism in American popular music.

Keywords: copyright law, early America, music business, music history, Music Modernization Act, music piracy

Guthrie, Jason Lee“America’s First Unprofessional Songwriter: Stephen Foster and the Ritual Economy of Copyright in Early American Popular Music." Journal of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association 19, no. 1 (2019): 37-72. https://doi.org/10.25101/19.2

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Stephen Foster and the Ritual Economy of Copyright in Early American Popular Music

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