Copyright Razzle Dazzle

You know those people you meet and almost instantly just know that they’re going to set the world on fire?  That’s how I felt when I first met Laura Oldham.  She is an incredible singer with movie star beauty, funny, smart and an overall fantastic spirit.  I could not be more happy to witness her living her dreams, which is what I was able to do last night when I saw the national touring production of Chicago: The Musical!  While it is a great show, I actually was more excited to see my dear friend and old (not that we are, we have just known each other a long time :)) college pal Laura in the role of Annie.

The original choreography has been updated over the years; however, much of the choreography is still influenced by world-renowned and original choreographer to Chicago – Bob Fosse.  One of my favorite references to Fosse was in the film The Birdcage staring Robin Williams.  In addition to being a great piece of film, you can see an example of the Fosse style below as performed by Robin Williams.

The choreography in Chicago typifies the Fosse style.  When you think of Bob Fosse, you think of Chicago.  One could even say it is his “trademark” style.  And, while Fosse’s style of choreography is definitely distinguishable, the intellectual property protection for choreography actually comes from copyright law.

Most people I know, even those involved with theater, do not realize and are often surprised to find out that choreography is subject to protection under copyright law.  Maybe it is not viewed as able to receive copyright protection because of the less than definitive structure in which it appears.  Unlike a book which you can hold, a song on sheet music or a film you watch in a theater, choreography is a different creature.  Books, movies and songs are things most everyone has been exposed to from a young age.  However, choreography is slightly harder to define and does not touch all people like books and music.

Regardless of what most think, choreography is subject to copyright protection once it is sufficiently “fixed” in a “tangible medium.”  The Copyright Act of 1976 states “Copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium … Works of authorship include … (4) pantomimes and choreographic works.”  Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §102(a).  The Copyright Office defined choreographic works as “the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns, and is usually intended to be accompanied by music.”  They continued by explaining how choreographic works do not have to tell a story in order to receive copyright protection.

So, how does choreography become fixed and then able to receive copyright protection?  To my friend choreographers like Christopher Dean, whom I wrote about in earlier posts Part 1, HERE and Part 2, HERE, it is advised that they film and/or write down the choreography.  Once the choreography is sufficiently encapsulated in a tangible medium of expression, such as a writing or film, then copyright protection exists for that choreography.

To my artistic readers and choreography friends be sure to take steps to protect your creativity and intellectual property before giving them the ‘ole razzle dazzle.  It becomes infinitely more difficult to protect your copyright in choreography without first fixing before sharing with others.  If you do not and then take steps to get your copyright back, “he had it coming” isn’t going to be a very good legal argument for a copyright case.

Did you know that choreography is subject to copyright protection?  Please weigh in with your comments below.  Stay Tuned In!

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