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Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – choreographic works and registration issues

The choreography in a musical, a music video, or a motion picture may be registered as a choreographic work (or as a contribution to a dramatic work or audiovisual work), provided that the dance contains a sufficient amount of copyrightable authorship and provided that the dance is claimed as a distinct form of authorship in the application.

If an applicant submits an application to register (draft) a choreographic work embodied in a dramatic work or an audiovisual work, the registration only extends to the copyrightable choreography disclosed in that work. The applicant should not assert a claim in choreography if the choreographic work was previously registered as a component part of a motion picture or a dramatic work as a whole.

If the claimant owns the copyright in a choreographic work and the musical accompaniment for that work, the music should be separately claimed in the application. If the claimant does not own the copyright in the musical accompaniment, that element of the work should be excluded from the claim.

Capacity for Uniform Performance

A choreographic work may be embodied with a textual description, photographs, drawings, or any combination of the foregoing, provided that the deposit copy(ies) identify the precise movements of the dancers and is sufficiently detailed to serve as directions for the performance of the dance.

If the deposit copy(ies) is not sufficiently specific or if it is so general and lacking in detail that the dance could not be performed therefrom, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse to register the dance as a choreographic work.

In some cases, it may be possible to register a textual description as a literary work if the application asserts a claim in “text” and it may be possible to register a photograph or drawing as a work of the visual arts if the applicant asserts a claim in “artwork.” In both cases, the registration would extend to the description, depiction, or illustration of the movements, but the movements themselves would not be registered as a choreographic work.

Descriptions, Depictions, and Illustrations of Social Dances, Simple Routines, or Other Uncopyrightable Movements

Although the copyright law does not protect social dances, simple routines, ordinary physical movements, or the like, the U.S. Copyright Office may register photographs, drawings, sculptures, or other works of visual art that illustrate a series of uncopyrightable movements. For example, a written description of a social dance may be registered as a literary work and a video recording of a simple routine may be registerable as a motion picture.

The scope of protection for such works does not extend to the movements themselves, either individually or in combination with each other. Instead, the claim is limited to the expressive description, depiction, or illustration of the movements, to the extent that they constitute a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, a literary work, or an audiovisual work.

For instance, making an unauthorized reproduction of a video recording that depicts an athletic competition may infringe the audiovisual expression in that recording. Likewise, making an unauthorized reproduction of a textbook that describes the steps for performing a social dance or simple routine may infringe the textual expression in that book. However, publicly performing a social dance, a simple routine, or an athletic competition that is depicted in a video recording or a book would not be an infringement.

“A narrative or graphic description of a social dance, as in a book designed to teach the dance, might be copyrighted; but the copyright, while affording protection against the reproduction of the description in its narrative or graphic form, would not extend to the execution of the dance.”

Application Tips for Choreographic Works

When registering a claim in a choreographic work using the online application, the applicant should select “Work of the Performing Arts” as the “Type of Work.” When registering a claim using a paper application, the applicant should complete Form PA.

The applicant should provide the name of the choreographer who created the choreographic authorship that appears in the work and the applicant should provide the name of the claimant who owns the copyright in that material.

The Performing Arts Division may accept a claim in “choreography” or “dance,” provided that the work is a choreographic work under Section 102(a)(4) of the Copyright Act and provided that it contains a sufficient amount of choreographic expression.

Deposit Requirements for Choreographic Works

A choreographic works may be fixed with dance notation, an audiovisual recording, a textual description, or any other tangible medium of expression that is sufficient to identify the applicant’s claim to copyright in the choreography and to allow the U.S. Copyright Office to examine the work for copyrightable authorship.

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