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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – fixation of choreographic works

The U.S. Copyright Office may register a claim to copyright in a choreographic work, provided that the specific movements constituting the work have been fixed in a tangible medium of expression. As a general rule (draft), the work should be fixed in a visually perceptible form, because choreography involves the physical movements of a dancer’s body which are visually perceived.

A choreographic work should be fixed in a form that reveals “the movements of the dance in sufficient detail to permit the work to be performed therefrom.”. In other words, the specific movements and physical actions that constitute the choreographic work should be fixed in a form that allows the work to be performed in a consistent and uniform manner.

The U.S. Copyright Office may register a choreographic work if the work has been fixed in a visually perceptible form that allows the dance movements to be perceived and performed by dancers, even if the choreographer left some room for improvisation or if some improvisation is intended in the performance of the work. It is not possible to copyright an improvised dance if the improvisation has not been fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

Forms of Fixation for Choreographic Works

Dance notation may be used to represent the precise movement of the dancers in a choreographic work. Examples of dance notation systems include Labanotation (which employs abstract symbols), Benesh Dance Notation (which employs stick figures), among other systems.

While dance notation may be used to fix a choreographic work, the notational system itself is a system that is not eligible for copyright protection under Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act. A choreographic work may be embodied in a motion picture or other audiovisual recording, such as a music video.

A choreographic work may be fixed with a textual description, photographs, drawings, or any combination of the foregoing, provided that the description is specific enough to identify the precise movements of the dancers and provided that the description is sufficiently detailed to serve as directions for its performance.

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