Choreographic works were added to the Copyright Act of 1976. However, choreographers have faced particular difficulty in the protection of their work, mainly due to the ambiguity in the definition of “choreographic works” in the Act, as well as the broad scope in what movement sequences can be considered choreography. In this way, contract, rather than copyright, has become the essential tool of the dance community, as it provides flexible terms and highlights the intent of the parties. Flexibility of terms is important, as choreographers often complete work to execute meaningful messages to be continually used with integrity by other choreographers even after the original choreographer’s death, rather than solely for monetary reasons. For example, with flexible contract terms, choreographers can ensure that their choreographic works are treated with integrity by other choreographers for years to come. Further, licenses facilitate public performances, which is how choreographic work becomes visible to the public. Another reason choreographers may prefer contract over copyright is that there is a lack of case law regarding choreographic copyright and in turn choreographers do not want to take the chance of going to court, not knowing what to expect. While Congress has left unclear the type of dance works that qualify for protection, the Copyright Office has provided a narrow definition, which may be even more detrimental to the dance community rather than having an unclear definition; for instance, under the narrow definition, less formal dance routines (i.e. routines taught in a class setting rather than performed on stage) may not have the same copyright protections as more formal routines. Further, other areas, including the application of the work for hire doctrine, often conflicts with the collaborative nature and tradition of choreographers and their community. How troubling is this problem, considering choreographers have successfully used contracts? A following blog will look into these implications, and whether copyright is essentially needed.
ARTICLE: Preservation and Protection in Dance Licensing: How Choreographers Use Contract to Fill in the Gaps of Copyright and Custom, 35 Colum. J.L. & Arts 253