Via Jesse Walker over at Reason’s Hit & Run Blog, comes Ethan Hein relaying the sordid tale of how folklorist Alan Lomax got co-authorship credit on a Jay-Z diss track. The article is well-worth the read for many reasons. It’s an interesting dissection of a tune by one of the America’s most talented musicians, it’s an object lesson in how broad the roots of many songs really are, and it’s an excellent illustration of just how well and truly fucked the US copyright system can be sometimes.

Here’s Hein’s conclusion, with which I heartily agree:

“The copyright maze is no obstacle to Jay-Z — he has the money, lawyers and connections to clear whatever he wants. But what about up-and-coming or unheard-of artists? What if they want to use samples? Should the most vital art form of our time be the exclusive province of forty-year-old multimillionaires? And grateful as I am to Alan Lomax for recording and disseminating so much great folk music, I remain baffled as to why he was allowed to copyright it. Our creative heritage deserves better stewardship than our current laws provide.”

It’s definitely worth reading the whole thing.