How to Copyright a Dance

How to Copyright a Dance

by Jane Haskins, Esq., September 2015

The composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns are copyrightable as choreographic works, provided they meet two criteria:

  • The dance must be your original work:  it must originate with you and show some minimal level of creativity.
  • The dance must be fixed in a tangible object.  This might include a film or video recording of the dance, or a precise written description in text or in a dance notation system.  An idea for a dance is not entitled to copyright protection, nor is a dance that has been performed but not notated or recorded.
  • A dance does not have to tell a story or be presented before an audience to receive copyright protection.

When Does Copyright Protection Begin?

Copyright protection for a dance begins as soon as the dance is created and fixed in a tangible object.  It does not need to be registered with the copyright office to receive copyright protection.  Copyright protection generally lasts for the lifetime of the dance’s creator and another 70 years after the creator’s death.

Rights Protected by Copyright

The owner of a copyright in a choreographic work has the exclusive right to publicly perform a dance, to make, sell or distribute copies of the dance, to prepare adaptations or other derivative works based on the dance, and to publicly display the dance.

Why Should You Register a Copyright?

You don’t have to register the copyright to your dance with the U.S. Copyright Office, but registration has several important advantages:

  • Registration creates a record of your copyright ownership.
  • You cannot file a lawsuit for copyright infringement unless you have registered your copyright. 
  • If you register your copyright within three months of publication or before a copyright infringement occurs, you can receive statutory damages and attorneys fees if you win a copyright infringement lawsuit. Statutory damages are an amount of money awarded per work infringed.  If you do not register your copyright prior to an infringement, you can only receive the amount of money you lost or the infringer’s profits. 

Registration Procedures and Deposit Requirements

To register a copyright, you must submit the following to the copyright office:

  • An application form.  Applications may be submitted online or by mailing a paper application.  Online applications have faster processing times and lower fees.
  • A filing fee of $35 for online applications and $65 for paper applications.
  • A nonrefundable copy or copies of your work. This can consist of a film or video recording of the dance or a precise description of the dance in written form, on a CD, or in a dance notation system.  The copyright office website has details on the number of copies you must submit and the ways in which you can submit them.

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