Cultural Appropriation Cuts Both Ways

Last week, the focus was on cultural appropriation and society from the perspective of the majority raiding the non-material culture of minorities.  This week, the shoe is on the other foot as cultural appropriation isn’t a one way street.

The video from “The Midnight Special” from 1974 shows Redbone performing their hit song “Come And Get Your Love.”  It was a song that climbed the charts all the way to #5, and stayed on the charts long enough to be certified Gold (it sold over half a million copies) because it was catchy and fun.  The band members were Native American Indians, and the New York Smithsonian Institution accredited the group as being the first Native American Indian rock group to have an international hit.

The song made its way back up the Billboard charts in 2014 when it was featured in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie.

The year after that, Netflix used the song as the intro theme for the cartoon series, “F is for Family.”

The song has legs obviously, with as much audience appeal forty years after its release as the day it first hit the airwaves.  But forty years later, there seems to be some cultural appropriation issues with the song.

Redbone’s song lyrics referenced Cajun and New Orleans culture but the founding brothers, Patrick and Lolly Vasquez-Vegas were a mix of Yaqui, Shoshone, and Mexican heritage.  The band was known for playing rock music, R&B, blue-eyed soul, funk, and country as well as tribal music.  There’s no denying that R&B and blue-eyed soul are definitely not from any Native American Indian culture.  And funk, rock, and country music is associated with cultures other than Indigenous cultures.

But wait a minute!  Guitars – acoustic or electric — aren’t traditional Native American Indian instruments!

The first acoustic guitar as we know it was built in 1850 by Spanish guitarist and luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado (13 June 1817 – 19 November 1892), based on a design by note Spanish guitar maker Joséf Pagés (1740 – 1822) and Spanish luthier Josef Sebastián Benedid Díaz (10 February 1760 – 20 October 1836).  The guitar had a body that was now able to hold its own with an orchestra without being lost in the other instruments.  Europeans went wild for guitars!

Electric guitars had their humble beginnings at the heart of electromagnetic induction which was discovered by English scientist Michael Faraday (22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867) on August 29, 1831.

By 1919, magazine ads began to appear, offering devices that would amplify instruments, and then came American jazz, country, and blues guitarist and songwriter Lester William Polsfuss, better known as Les Paul (9 June 1915 – 12 August 2009) and American inventor Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender (10 August 1909 – 21 March 1991) who created the electric guitar as we know it today.

Now Les Paul’s ancestry is German thanks to both parents, and Leo Fender’s family is American going back to his great-great-great-great-grandparents.  That being said, the generation before that was from Baden-Wuerttemberg (Germany) and Cumberland (England) and Bethnal Green, Stepney, County Middlesex (England).

The argument can be made that Redbone’s success was due in part to the cultural appropriation of guitars which are obviously part of the English, Spanish, and German cultures.

Some will argue that fiddles were instruments of the Inuit and the Apache however fiddles only appeared after Indigenous peoples had contact with Europeans so it would seem that this may be a case of cultural appropriation.  But even if it’s argued that fiddles are Indigenous instruments, they aren’t guitars, and they aren’t played the way guitars are played.  This means that guitars are definitely not Native American Indian instruments.

Since we know from last weeks’ essay that cultural appropriation happens when one culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, and more are used without permission of the culture from which it is taken, is it not fair to say that Native American Indians have also engaged in cultural appropriation?

And then there’s the Aboriginal rappers to consider.  Have they engaged in cultural appropriation?

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Elyse Bruce


The Conflict of Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the use of elements from one culture by members of a different culture.  According to law professors and psychologists, social scientists and politicians, cultural appropriation happens when one culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, and more are used without permission of the culture from which it is taken.  It’s especially hurtful when the culture being appropriated is one that’s been exploited or oppressed by the culture doing the appropriating.

In other words, cultural appropriation promotes the power imbalance of the ruling class over those who have been historically marginalized.

There are two kinds of culture:  Material culture and non-material culture.  Non-material culture is what’s meant when speaking about cultural appropriation since non-material culture deals specifically with intangibles.  Beliefs.  Traditions.  Values.

Of course, within material and non-material cultures are other constructs such as subculture (beliefs or behaviors that are contrary to the majority of the culture’s community) and counterculture (active rejection of aspects that are dominant in the culture’s community).  For the purposes of this essay, the focus is on mainstream non-material culture.

Now psychologists will tell you that culture and the people of a culture have a symbiotic relationship.  Each culture has its unique societal norms by which to live, and members of each culture live by shared expectations and rules that guide and determine their place in that culture.  To this end, people define and refine what their culture is, and culture defines and refines its people.

These days, there’s a lot being said about cultural appropriation.  Some of it is warranted such as the outcry against sports teams using names that are offensive to Indigenous peoples in the Americas.  But is it possible to create art without any cultural appropriation?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Bangles sang about walking like an Egyptian?

Was it cultural appropriation when Carl Douglas let us know that everyone was kung fu fighting?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Vapors thought they were turning Japanese?

Was it cultural appropriation when Steven Tyler and Aerosmith announced that dude looked like a lady?

How about when Toto decided to take on the entire continent of Africa?

This is where the waters are muddy.  If those songs and other art, literature, music, and more is cultural appropriation, where do we draw the line when it comes to enjoying past creative endeavors?  If we’re told to turn our backs on pop culture that draws on other cultures to exist, is it also time to boycott the classics whether it’s literature, art, or music?

Do we turn our backs on Béla Bartók’s Romanian Dances seeing he was from Hungary and not Romania?  Is it time to refuse to attend concerts where Brahm’s “Ballade Edward” is performed because it was based on a Scottish ballad and Johannes wasn’t Scottish?  How about Beethoven’s music based on Welsh, Irish, and Scottish folk songs?  After all Ludwig was German, was he not?

How about all those musicians who aren’t English but who have recorded “Scarborough Fair” or “Greensleeves?”   Should they be forced to make reparations for daring to sing something they obviously appropriated from another culture?

Should “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” be sung only by those of African-American heritage?  And next New Year’s Eve, should the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” only be sung only by those who can prove their Scottish ancestry?

Do we stop children and their grandparents from enjoying a rousing rendition of “Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be?” if they haven’t an ounce of English blood anywhere in their background — or going back at least eight generations?

Where no offense is meant, is any harm done?  Some say yes while others say no.  But if we are to say harm is done, where does this leave the English language which is an amalgam of several languages?  Is it time to dismantle the language to create a language that English-language speakers can safely call their own that doesn’t steal from other languages and cultures?

There’s no easy solution, and this is why we need to speak openly about what is, and is not, harmful cultural appropriation.  Certainly there are ways to draw upon cultures that are not our own without causing insult and injury.  It begins with mutual respect, and this means both sides must be willing to hear each other out before jumping to conclusions.  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Elyse Bruce

Pirates Have Allies

The issue of copyrights and copyright infringements have been discussed on this blog in earlier entries.  The problem isn’t going to go away any time soon either as long as some people are feel that copyright owners have no right to their copyrights.  The excuses range from being too poor to be able to buy what copyright owners  have created to doing copyright owners a great service by providing them with more exposure.

Recently this screenshot has been circulating on social media.  It shows the degree to which thieves will go to justify their criminal activities.

Even more recently in a Facebook discussion in an author group, there was a discussion about book launches and ways to make the event memorable for attendees.  One self-published author stated that creating a music CD that contained music associated with various scenarios in the book and giving one CD away with every book purchased would be a great promotion.

Except that it’s not a great promotion.  It’s illegal to breach copyright (in this case, via unlawful distribution of copyright materials) as proposed by the self-published author.

What’s worse, the self-published author who made the suggestion claimed to know, and understand, the law, and berated others who dared to point out that she was proposing copyright infringement.   In the end, the author who asked the question decided that the self-published author who proposed copyright infringement was more knowledgeable than those authors who advised against copyright infringement.

So why would an author suggest copyright infringement as a great promotion when the author herself is a copyright owner?  That’s something only the self-published author in question can answer.  Suffice it to say, however, that sometimes copyright owners think of others in the industry as competitors to knock off, and if advising illegal activity knocks off the competition, some have no problem going with that approach.

Know Who Supports You and WhyUsed with permission from the artist.

SPECIAL NOTE:  Check out Jimmy S. Craig’s website, where you can purchase prints of this and other hilarious cartoons at amazingly reasonable prices.  Click HERE or copy and paste into your browser to visit his site.

If you’re a copyright owner, remember this:  If you want others to respect your copyrights, you have a responsibility to respect other people’s copyrights.

Elyse Bruce









Working As A Team

Recently, author/artist Thomas D. Taylor and I completed a commissioned painting for a prestigious literary festival.  The Special Projects Coordinator was very definite with regards to what he wanted from the painting, and as the lead on the commissioned piece, I took notes at both meetings to ensure that I heard and understood what was expected of the project.

Hours of research went into learning the history of the subject of the painting, and even more research went into understanding the architecture of the period as well as the building materials that were used at the time.  And, of course, everything from the sky to rocks was researched as where the subject is located determines what nature looks like (which differs from region to region).

While I won’t show you the tableau in its entirety, I will show you thumbnails from the painting and share with you the great amount of detail that went into every bit of this canvas.  First off, the painting is acrylic on canvas and is 24 inches by 36 inches.  Much of the painting was done with liner and spotting brushes (in fact, my favorite Loew-Cornell 7350 finally expired near the end of this commission).

The pebbles on the dirt path leading up to the house in the painting creates the impression that if you were to walk along the path in real life, your feet would feel each pebble and every stone you stepped on.  The path itself is one of loose dirt and dirt packed down from the many people who have walked it.

Pebbles On The Path_SMALL

The stone step is hard while the wood along the bottom of the painted fence gate is rough.  Of note is the fact that the wood along the bottom of the painted fence gate and the stone step share the same colors.  What creates the different effects is how much of each color was used, and how it was applied.  And yes, that’s a bit of moss growing on the right hand side of the stone step.

Stone Step_SMALL

Details can make or break any creative endeavor.  In this case, the upstairs window — with its shutters open — shows a tree in front of the house reflected in the glass panes.  It’s not sharp and defined because, truth be told, reflections in glass panes rarely are sharp and defined.

Tree Reflecting In Upstairs Window Pane_SMALL

In both downstairs windows, sheers can be seen.  While it would have been easier to just leave the windows clear, a house of this sort would have had drapes and either sheers or lace between the windows and the heavier drapery inside.  During the day, the heavier drapes would have been pulled open and tied with sashes, leaving the sheers and lace to allow the sunshine to pour into the room without providing too much harsh lighting to penetrate.

Sheers In Downstairs Window_SMALL
And finally, among the small thumbnails I’m sharing today, is the modern man sitting on the fence reading a book.  The book cover in the painting measures three-quarters of an inch tall by half an inch wide (which made it incredibly tricky to paint the cover).  If you look closely, you’ll see that the man’s shirt also has buttons (another tricky and unbelievably small detail that needed to be included).

Reading Man On The Fence_SMALL
In the weeks to come, the Special Projects Coordinator will have the pleasure of unveiling the painting at WinterFest.  Until then, however, all I can share with you are these thumbnails.  I promise you, though, that I will upload a full view of the painting once the painting has been officially presented to the public.

Until then, enjoy these aspects of the painting that Thomas Taylor and I co-painted.

Elyse Bruce

An Open Letter To Copyright Infringers, Piracy Advocates, and Thieves

Dear Copyright Infringers, Piracy Advocates, and Thieves,

You see value in what I create from my books to my music and my art.  I know you do because you feel compelled to illegally download and to illegally offer my copyrighted intellectual property to your friends, family, and subscribers via numerous websites and social media.

Your reasons for doing this are varied, and none of the reasons you give are valid.

Some claim that they are financially disadvantaged, and that gives them the right to foist their financial disadvantage on me and my family.  I have news for you. Being financially disadvantaged does not give you the right to steal my paycheck.  At no point have I agreed to subsidize your financial situation with my hard work and my royalties.  If you don’t earn enough money to buy what you want, don’t default to stealing and then justifying your actions with excuses.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a student in debt or a single parent on welfare or someone who’s just too cheap to do the right thing.

Some claim that they’re doing me a great service because once they read my book, or listen to my music, or enjoy my art, they’ll tell their friends who have money.  In other words, I should thank them for all the free exposure they’re giving me.  Listen, lots of people die of exposure, and you aren’t doing me any great service since you and I both know that your friends are more likely than not to be just like you.  Yes, they’ll more likely than not be engaged in the same illegal activities as you when it comes to other people’s intellectual property.  So don’t try to sell me that song-and-dance routine where you promise to be my Number One fan because even Stephen King knows how that ends.

Some claim that it’s just one book or one CD or one image, so it’s not really hurting me, the copyright owner, all that much.   Except that it’s not just one book or one CD or one image that’s being illegally downloaded or illegally offered.  There’s no end of illegal downloads and no end of illegal offerings out there.  When you make yourself part of the chain, it’s never just one book or one CD or one image, and you know that.

Some claim that, once they read my book or listen to my CD or view my image, if they like it, they’ll for sure buy a legit copy.  Except that you and I both know that’s not going to happen either.  Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free, right?

Rest assured that copyright owners are fighting back.  We’re filing legitimate DMCA Takedown Notices with the appropriate people and agencies, and we expect those legitimate DMCA Takedown Notices to be acted upon responsibly.  Don’t think you can hide behind smoke-and-mirrors, because copyright owners are getting pretty savvy as to how we can go about filing legitimate DMCA Takedown Notices.

And for those of you who say that the tech guys are going to side with the copyright infringers, piracy advocates, and thieves, think again.  Those tech guys of whom you speak — the ones who write code and create software and are responsible for gaming development and all that jazz — aren’t too impressed with seeing their paycheck decimated by the Don’t Pay Brigade.  They and their companies are filing with those same people and agencies, and they’re expecting those same people and agencies to act responsibly on their complaints as well.

So dear copyright infringers, piracy advocates, and thieves, should you get notified by your Internet Service Provider that a complaint has been filed against you for copyright infringement, accept that you’ve been caught.  Pay the fine.

And stop stealing from copyright owners.

It’s as simple as all that.

Elyse Bruce

Breaking Down The (DMCA) Takedown

Copyright and trademark infringement is rampant these days as we all know, and if you own copyrights and/or trademarks, this means you have to be vigilant — in real life as well as online — for infringements of your copyrights and/or trademarks.  But far too few entrepreneurs and small businesses know where to begin when they learn that someone has infringed their copyrights and/or trademarks, especially if the site where the infringement has happened isn’t YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, or any other large entity that will respect a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice.

This first thing you have to do when you find your intellectual property infringed upon is to send a DMCA notice to the company.  If that yields no results, then send a DMCA notice to the web hosting company.

What copyrighted materials does a DMCA takedown notice cover?

 In a nutshell, it will take down any copyrighted materials as long as you can prove that it you own the copyright, that your copyright has been infringed upon, and that you haven’t given permission for the third-party to use your copyright.  This means that any text (including Word. Doc documents, plain text etc), video (including MPG, AVI, RM, MOV, Quicktime, Windows Media Player, RealPlayer), music and audio (including MP3, MP4, MIDI, WMA, WAV), images, pictures and photos (Including JPG / JPEG, GIF, PNG, PSD et al) even when they are posted to social media; and software can be part of a DMCA takedown notice.

What does the notice need to include?

In short, the following eight items must be part of your DMCA takedown notice:

1.  Your full name and email address;
2.  Name of Infringing work;
3.  Original Content URLs;
4.  Infringing Content URLs;
5.  State that the website’s use of your copyright or trademark is infringing on your copyright and/or trademark;
6.  A good faith belief statement stating that the copyright and/or trademark owner, its agent, or the law, has not authorized the use of the infringed copyright and/or trademark.
7.  A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the person filing the complaint is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed; and
8.  A dated electronic signature of the copyright owner or a person authorized to act on behalf of the copyright owner.

NOTE If you file your DMCA takedown notice via email or website contact page, a digital signature must be preceded with /s/ followed by your name.

What if the contact information to send a DMCA takedown notice to isn’t available on the website?

There’s no cloak-and-dagger involved here as a WHOIS search only requires that you input the name of the website where the alleged infringed copyright materials are found, and hitting the submit or send button.

What if the website isn’t hosted in a notice-and-takedown country?

This doesn’t mean you are out of luck because you aren’t.  You can file a DMCA takedown notice with search engines which will minimize the damages incurred from having your copyrighted materials on the website in question.

Can I write my own DMCA takedown notice if I don’t know any legal jargon?

You don’t need legal jargon for a DMCA Takedown Notice to be effective.   All you have to do is to make sure that your DMCA takedown notice conforms to the format set out by the government.

What if the website refuses to honor the DMCA Takedown Notice?

While that would certainly be disconcerting, you aren’t without options.  At that point, you still have the option to file a complaint through the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center partnership, using the IC3 form found HERE.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) deals with matters of “online fraud in its many forms including Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) matters, Computer Intrusions (hacking), Economic Espionage (Theft of Trade Secrets), Online Extortion, International Money Laundering, Identity Theft, and a growing list of Internet facilitated crimes.”

What if my copyrighted materials aren’t registered with the Copyright Office in the U.S., the Canadian Intellectual Properties Office in Canada, or any other similar government department in another country?

Copyright exists at the time of creation which means that creators are entitled to copyright protection as laid out in their country’s Copyright Act.  As long as you can prove that you are the owner of the allegedly infringed copyright, you can file a DMCA Takedown Notice.

Final Note

Don’t be afraid to take a stand against theft especially when it impacts on your business.  You worked hard to get to where you are, and no one has the right to dip into your bank account and relieve you of your royalties without your express permission.

Elyse Bruce


DMCA Takedown 101

The DMCA Takedown Notice Demystified

How To Write A DMCA Takedown Notice

In Plain English: A Quick Guide TO DMCA Takedown Notices

The Notice And Take Down Provisions of the DMCA

Responding To A DMCA Takedown Notice

Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright

Missy Barrett’s Got A New Look

Last year, Missy Barrett published her book, “Missy Barrett’s Year In Review: The Year I Turned 8″ and fans loved it! If you missed it, you can pick up a paperback or eBook edition on Amazon by clicking HERE.

This year will see another year in review book published in January 2015, with an updated portrait of Missy Barrett. In fact, here’s a sneak preview of that updated portrait!

Missy Barrett at 9_MEDIUM
Be sure to watch for the announcement here and on my blogs when “Missy Barrett’s Year In Review: The Year I Turned 9” is available for purchase and download.

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