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Copyright Choreographic Works

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Manish Jindal

February 9, 2024

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Copyright Choreographic Works

Copyright Choreographic Works refers to the protection and legal rights provided to creators of original dance compositions under the umbrella of copyright law.

These choreographic pieces, from ballet to contemporary dance forms, are often intricate and highly creative, embodying unique ideas and expressions through body movements, rhythmic patterns, and spatial configurations.

Understanding copyright choreographic works, therefore, is vital not just for dancers and choreographers, but also for educators, dance companies, and anyone involved in the creative industry.

It serves as a fundamental tool to safeguard original choreographic expressions and maintain the sustainability of creativity and innovation within the dance community.

Is Choreography Copyrighted?

Yes, choreography can be copyrighted. In many jurisdictions, including the United States, original choreographic works are protected under copyright law.

According to the U.S. Copyright Act, for a choreographic work to be eligible for copyright, it needs to be an original work of authorship and it must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated.

This means that choreographic works that have been recorded on video, written in dance notation, or otherwise captured in a physical form, may qualify for copyright protection.

Once copyrighted, the choreographer has exclusive rights to reproduce the work, distribute copies, perform the work publicly, and create derivative works.

However, it’s important to note that copyright law does not protect simple routines, individual movements, or dance steps.

Similarly, unrecorded, improvised dance performances that haven’t been notated or recorded aren’t protected under copyright law.

Copyright also doesn’t cover social dances or common dance moves that are widely known and used.

Copyright Copyright Choreographic Works Infringement

Copyright infringement in choreography occurs when a person or entity uses or reproduces a copyrighted choreographic work without the permission or license from the copyright owner.

This could be in the form of copying significant elements of the dance, performing the dance publicly without permission, or creating derivative works based on the original without consent.

For a case to be considered copyright infringement, two key elements usually need to be demonstrated:

Copying

The accused party must have actually copied the work, rather than independently creating a similar piece.

This can be difficult to prove, especially given the commonality of certain movements and steps in dance. Evidence of copying can be direct or circumstantial.

Substantial Similarity

The copied elements must be a substantial part of the copyrighted work.

What constitutes “substantial” can be a complex matter and is often left to the interpretation of the court.

It’s not necessarily about the quantity of the work copied, but the quality and importance of the copied portion in relation to the work as a whole.

It’s important to remember that copyright law does not protect individual movements, steps, or simple routines, as well as unrecorded, improvised performances.

It only protects the unique arrangement or combination of movements that make up the whole choreographic work.

Understanding the nuances of copyright infringement in choreography can be complex.

It is often recommended to consult with a legal professional specialising in intellectual property law when dealing with potential infringement issues.

Examples of Copyright Choreographic Works

Martha Graham vs. Ronald Protas (2001)

One of the most famous choreographic copyright disputes in history, this case was between the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance and Ronald Protas, the heir to Graham’s estate.

Protas claimed ownership over Graham’s dances. However, the court ruled that many of the dances were actually work-for-hire and hence belonged to the Center, not Graham or her estate.

Beyoncé vs. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (2011)

Singer Beyoncé came under scrutiny when her music video for “Countdown” featured dance sequences that closely resembled those from two choreographed dances by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Beyoncé admitted to being inspired by De Keersmaeker, but no legal action was pursued.

Epic Games vs. Multiple Plaintiffs (2018)

The creators of the video game Fortnite were hit with multiple lawsuits from celebrities claiming that the game used their signature dance moves without permission.

These dances were sold within the game as “emotes”.

However, as of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, these cases largely had not moved forward because of the difficulty in copyrighting individual dance moves.

Taylor Swift vs. Richard Fairbrass (2014)

Singer Taylor Swift faced accusations of stealing dance sequences for her “Shake It Off” music video from a performance by Richard Fairbrass of the band Right Said Fred. However, no formal legal action was pursued.

Please remember, these examples illustrate potential and alleged infringements, and the legal outcomes varied due to a wide array of factors. In all cases of potential copyright infringement, legal advice should be sought.

As copyright law can differ significantly between jurisdictions, these examples may not be representative of how similar cases might be treated under different legal systems.

How to Register Copyright for Choreography

Registering copyright for choreography can provide valuable protection for your work.

While choreography is protected by copyright as soon as it’s created and fixed in a tangible medium, registration with the copyright office in your jurisdiction provides legal evidence of your copyright ownership.

This can be invaluable if you ever need to assert your rights in court. Here are general steps on how to register copyright for choreography in the United States:

Fix the Choreography in a Tangible Medium

The first step is to record the choreography in a physical form. This could be a video recording of the dance, a detailed description, or dance notation.

The work needs to be in a format that someone else could use to learn and perform the dance.

Prepare Registration Materials

You’ll need to complete an application form which typically asks for information like the title of the work, the choreographer’s name, a brief description, and the year the choreography was created.

Additionally, you’ll need to prepare a deposit of the work, which can usually be a video or detailed notation.

Submit the Application

You can generally submit your application online or through the mail.

Online applications are typically processed faster. When you submit your application, you’ll also need to pay a registration fee.

Wait for Processing

After you submit your application, the copyright office will process it. This could take several months.

If your application is approved, you’ll receive a certificate of registration.

If there are any issues with your application, the copyright office will contact you.

Remember, these are general steps and the exact process can vary depending on your jurisdiction.

Additionally, copyright registration isn’t necessary to have copyright protection, but it does provide valuable benefits.

For the most accurate and comprehensive advice, consider consulting with an intellectual property attorney or specialist in your area.

How to Copyright Choreography in India?

Copyrighting choreography in India follows a similar process to other types of intellectual property.

As per the Indian Copyright Act of 1957, choreographic works are protected.

However, the choreography must be original and be recorded in some form of physical medium.

Here are the general steps you would follow to register a copyright for choreography in India:

Fix the Choreography in a Tangible Medium

The first step is to create a physical record of the choreography.

This could be a video recording, detailed written notation, or another form that captures the unique elements of the dance.

This allows for someone else to replicate the dance from the record you create.

Prepare Registration Materials

Complete a copyright application form (Form XIV), which includes details such as the title of the work, the choreographer’s name, the nature of the work, and the language of the work.

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A clear description of the work is essential, along with details such as where and when it was first published (if applicable).

Submit the Application

The application form along with the required fees must be sent to the Copyright Office in New Delhi.

The application should be signed by the applicant and must be accompanied by a minimum of two and a maximum of six copies of the work.

Wait for Scrutiny

The Copyright Office will examine the application. If no objections are raised within 30 days, the application moves to the next stage.

Registration

If there are no objections and everything is found in order, the Registrar of Copyrights registers the work and issues a Certificate of Registration.

Public Notice

Upon receiving the certificate, the copyright owner is recommended to publish a public notice in a widely circulated newspaper to let the general public know about the copyright registration.

 Exceptions in Registering Copyright for Choreography

While choreography can generally be copyrighted, there are several important exceptions and nuances that choreographers should be aware of:

Improvised Performances

Copyright protection only extends to choreographic works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

This means that improvised performances that are not notated or recorded at the time of their creation cannot be copyrighted.

Improvised Performances

Simple routines, individual movements, or dance steps cannot be copyrighted.

This extends to commonly known steps or movements, basic routines, social dances, and workout exercises.

Copyright protection is provided to choreography as a whole that represents a unique arrangement or sequence of dance movements and patterns.

Non-original Choreography

 Choreographic work must be original to the choreographer. If the work directly copies or closely imitates another piece of choreography, it may not be eligible for copyright protection.

Uncopyrighted Music or Scripts

 If a dance is choreographed to uncopyrighted music or scripts, the choreography itself can still be copyrighted.

However, the music or script would remain free for others to use.

Choreography in the Public Domain

Choreographic works that have fallen into the public domain cannot be copyrighted again.

Once a work is in the public domain, it is free for the public to use and cannot be copyrighted, even if a new variation or interpretation is created.

Lack of a “Story”

Unlike a play or film, a choreographic work does not need to tell a story or have a theme to be copyrighted.

The choreography is protected as an artistic expression, whether or not it conveys a specific narrative.

Conclusion

 In conclusion, copyrighting choreographic works is a crucial aspect of intellectual property law that protects the rights of choreographers, allowing them to control the use, reproduction, distribution, and public performance of their unique compositions.

These rights are crucial in fostering creativity and innovation within the dance community by ensuring choreographers are recognised and rewarded for their work.

However, there are also nuances and exceptions within these laws, which exclude protection for individual steps or movements, social dances, and unrecorded, improvised performances.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can choreography be copyrighted?

Yes, choreography can be copyrighted.

In many jurisdictions, including the United States, original choreographic works are protected under copyright law .

Once they are fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated.
 

 How do you copyright choreography?

To copyright choreography, you need to fix the work in a tangible medium like video or dance notation.

Then complete an application form providing details about the work, and submit it to the copyright office in your jurisdiction.

Fees apply, and the process can take several months.

 What does choreography copyright protect? 

Copyright protection for choreography gives the copyright holder exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, and create derivative works based on the original choreography.

It does not extend to individual movements or dance steps, social dances, unrecorded improvisation, or routines that are not choreographic in nature.

What constitutes infringement of choreography copyright? 

Infringement of choreography copyright occurs when a copyrighted choreographic work is used or reproduced without permission from the copyright holder.

This can involve copying significant elements of the dance, performing the dance publicly without permission, or creating derivative works based on the original without consent.
 

 Do I need to register my choreography to have copyright protection?

Technically, choreography is protected by copyright as soon as it’s created and fixed in a tangible medium.

However, registering the choreography with the copyright office provides legal evidence of ownership, which can be invaluable if you ever need to assert your rights in court.

It can also potentially enable you to claim statutory damages and attorney’s fees in the U.S. if you ever have to sue someone for infringement.

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