More Information on Dance as Protectable under the Copyright Law

In Answer to Dance Moves in Video Games and Football End Zone Dances.

Just like a song or a movie, certain dances can be protected by copyright. In order to receive copyright protection for a dance the dance must meet the following criteria:

  1. The dance must be original, showing at least a minimal level of originality and creativity.
  2. The dance has to be fixed in a a tangible form of expression.

This could mean that the dance is videotaped or recorded, or that it is depicted in some form of precise written detail, or it could be described using typical dance notation.

In 2017, the Copyright Office gave some examples of dances and choreography that was not protectable by copyright. A single move, or a series of common moves, are not copyrightable because those are open for anyone to use under the doctrine of fair use. Many dances may involve combining certain moves together, and the government does not want to protect one move out of the fear it could stop innovation and creativity in the dance field as a whole. Therefore, a simple end zone celebration dance likely would not be able to receive copyright protection.

Social dances such as a square dance are not copyrightable, as they are intended for the enjoyment of the dancers themselves and not intended to be portrayed by skilled dancers or professionals. Additionally, dances intended to be performed by robots or animals are not copyrightable.

You receive copyright protection the moment you create it and put it in some form of protection. At the point you fixed the dance in some form of expression you are afforded various rights. These rights include the right of reproduction, meaning you can make copies of the dance, and the right to create derivative works, which allows you to create other dances or other copyrightable expression based on the first work. You also have the sole right to public performance once the dance is created. Copyright protection for a dance does not allow you to stop people from using your dance entirely. They may still perform it at a private function, or as part of an educational routine.

However, officially registering it with the copyright office affords you certain protections. Once you register the copyright you can sue anyone who tries to copy your dance, or perform it publicly. If you register the dance at least 3 months prior to someone infringing the dance, you can receive additional statutory damages, and recover the fees you paid to the attorney to bring the suit. You also create an official record of when you created the dance.

This article and it’s contents are purely to be used as information guidance and is in no way a legal opinion.